North Carolina

Foxes in the trees? Video in N.C. forest shows some can climb with alarming ease

It’s unnerving enough to know snakes can fall out of trees, but now come images showing some foxes in North Carolina can climb trees with an unexpected speed and agility, too.

North Carolina’s camera trap program, NC Candid Critters, posted images a few days ago showing a gray fox scuttling up a tree in a matter of seconds.

Not jumping or pulling itself up, but actually climbing, like a cat.

“Yes, I think people would be surprised to know that,” Dr. Stephanie Schuttler told the Charlotte Observer. Schuttler is a research associate at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

“Although some dog species can jump into trees on low branches, they can’t climb up a straight trunk like the gray fox can,” she continued. “I believe the raccoon dog is the only other canid that can climb trees.”

Canids is the family of animals that includes foxes, wolves and dogs, according to Canid Specialist Group. The raccoon dog, which is native to East Asia, looks like a raccoon, but is distantly related to domestic dogs, says the site.

The gray fox’s tree-climbing skill developed over centuries of evolution, which gave it “primate-like flexible wrists and cat-like paws with long, curved claws,” says

As a result, gray foxes can hunt in trees, house themselves in trees and even “drag heavy objects” up into trees, such as the corpses of things they intend to eat, according to the site. (That’s yet another creepy thing to fall out of trees.)

Biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission say the gray fox’s climbing ability is helping them endure the state’s coyote population boom. Red foxes, a species that came here with European settlers, can’t climb and are increasingly “displaced” by coyotes, say state officials.

The image of the fox climb is just one of many unusual sights the state camera trap program has caught in recent years, including photos of a few large and small animals that can’t be easily identified.

Among the strangest was a photo of a deer and a raccoon appearing to kiss in November 2018. It’s still a mystery what the two were up to in the dark.

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Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering beats including schools, crime, immigration, the LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.