What do you know about the Island Fox?

This fox is descended from the Gray Fox, which can be found in mainland North America, but this fox is found on the Channel Islands just off of California. They are endemic to these islands and are found on six of the eight:1

  • Santa Cruz
  • Santa Rosa
  • San Miguel
  • San Nicolas
  • San Clemente
  • Santa Catalina

These foxes have gone through tremendous conservation efforts to bring up their population numbers.

While the Island Fox is descended from the Gray Fox, they are much smaller – this is from evolving and adapting to the environment of the islands.2 They are about a foot tall and weigh 4-5 pounds. While they are one of the smallest species of canid, they are the largest land mammal residing on the Channel Islands.1&2

There are several subspecies of the Island Fox, and each has evolved independently of one another. This means that they vary genetically – such as how big their ears are, or how many tail vertebrae they have – depending on the island they live on.2

These foxes are omnivorous, and eat:1

  • Crickets
  • Beetles
  • Crabs
  • Saltbushes
  • Seafigs
  • Manzanita

Island Foxes were in trouble in the 1990s and early 2000s.1 This was due to both DDT and disease, such as canine distemper.1&2 DDT affected Bald Eagles, which were also present on the islands. However, as the Bald Eagle population declined, Golden Eagles swooped in to take their spot on these islands. The big issue here is that while Bald Eagles didn’t prey on the Island Foxes, Golden Eagles did.1

In 2004, the Island Fox was listed as endangered, even though a recovery program had already been started by then. These efforts included captive breeding Island Foxes, releasing them onto the islands, and removing Golden Eagles.1 These efforts worked – in 2016, Island Foxes were removed from the endangered species list.2 Currently, they’re listed by the IUCN as near threatened.1

Want to learn more about foxes? Explore all the information we have on our blog!