WOULD A FOX ENJOY A DEAD POSSUM?
I saw the fox stick its face down onto a road-killed possum and then
roll around on its back to get a thorough coating of the dead animal
smell, I was reminded of every dog I have ever had. To watch a dog eat
or squirm around on top of a rotting animal or other disgusting item
is to observe one of their most undesirable behaviors. But watching
a fox perform the act was fascinating, as it would not be coming home
with me to jump on the couch.
have previously extolled the virtues of wildlife cameras in allowing
us to glimpse parts of the natural world we would otherwise seldom see.
Wildlife biologists and hunters commonly use such cameras for ecological
studies or to assess hunting opportunities for game species. I use them
to find out what animals are in the vicinity of our cabin at night and
what they are doing.
the foxs enthusiastic behavior upon finding a dead possum did
not happen by chance. I had put the road-killed possum at the edge of
the field bordering our woods two days earlier and set up the camera
to see who would visit. Using fresh road kill to set up a scavenger
feeding station is like putting sunflower seeds in a bird feeder.
a steady supply of dead possums, coons and gray squirrels into your
backyard in town is not recommended. Though you might enjoy the show,
your neighbors are likely to be less enthusiastic. But setting up a
scavenger buffet in a remote rural habitat is acceptable, and the customers,
who come mostly at night, are generally more interesting than blue jays
and house finches.
the photos, I was interested to see that wild foxes can exhibit the
same behavior as dogs when they find a smelly mess on the ground. I
wondered why they do so.
as it is called, did not evolve simply as a pointless exercise that
members of the dog family engage in when they are bored. Presumably,
the behavior in domestic dogs is a purposeless holdover from their wild
ancestors. But for foxes and other wild animals, the action must have
a function, although behavioral biologists do not agree on what it might
biologists posit that wolves roll on carrion or animal droppings to
bring information back to the pack about the presence in the vicinity
of a prey species, such as deer or elk. A predator might also be providing
evidence to a mate of its own prowess at finding prey. Likewise, being
made aware of a competing species or predator nearby might be useful.
A fox might take it as a warning if its mate came home smelling like
bobcat or coyote dung.
proposal has been that a fox may mask or camouflage its own scent when
sneaking up on a rabbit or mouse. Of course, one has to wonder about
any prey animal that would not be alarmed upon smelling a long-dead
possum approaching, so Im not enamored with that hypothesis.
suggestion has been that a predator might roll around on a dead animal
in order to mark its territory by leaving its own smell. But how detectable
would a live animals scent be amid the overpowering smell of a
rotting carcass? Another idea is that to dogs, wolves and foxes the
sense of smell is dominant and they may enjoy putting on a new scent
the way some people like to stand out with their choice of perfume,
jewelry or unconventional clothing.
for wildlife cameras has grown immeasurably with the realization that
they not only show me what is running around in the area but also reveal
normally unseen behaviors. When we uncover wildlifes hidden biodiversity
and observe what it is doing, we enter a new realm of understanding
and appreciation for the natural habitats that surround us.
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