Written by Kelsey Low
We’re entering the Dog Days of Summer in more ways than one! Historically, the extra-hot period between July 3rd and August 11th is referred to as the Dog Days because that is when the “Dog Star” Sirius rises with the sun. But this year at the Arboretum, the Dog Days are much more literal… we’re seeing coyotes and foxes!
This week, staff and visitors have spotted coyotes wandering in the savanna and Meadow, especially in the evening. It seems like there’s a group of three coyotes hanging out in the area. One individual is unusually rusty red in color. If you see them, you may be surprised by how small they are! Houston coyotes are about the size of a border collie and very scrawny.
Coyotes are common in Houston, but people tend not to notice them for two reasons: they’re primarily nocturnal and they are very shy. Urban coyotes prefer to come out at night to avoid interacting with humans and traffic, and they tend to run off long before you can get a good look. You are much more likely to see their scat. It looks a lot like domestic dog poop, but it’s full of rodent fur and berry seeds. As omnivores, coyotes eat just about anything, but their favorite foods are rats, rabbits, carrion (dead animals), and fruit.
We are excited to see these beautiful wild animals at the Arboretum and we encourage you to keep a look out for them. Please remember that while coyotes look like domestic dogs, they are not tame. Here are some coyote safety tips if you happen to see them on the trails:
- Give them plenty of space and do not try to approach or interact with them.
- Keep your dogs leashed at all times.
- Pick up your trash: we don’t want coyotes to associate humans with food.
- If a coyote approaches you, wave your arms, clap, stomp your feet, and yell – it may seem mean to scare them, but the less comfortable they are around people, the safer they will be.
As exciting as the coyotes are, we’re even more thrilled about another wild dog sighting: a gray fox! We haven’t had a confirmed live fox at the Arboretum in years. Earlier this year a trail camera was installed at the Arboretum as part of the University of Houston’s Hidden Life of Houston Project in partnership with the Urban Wildlife Information Network. When they analyzed the first batch of photos, they saw that we had four visits by a gray fox (as well as armadillos, raccoons, opossums, and more).
Gray foxes are probably common in Houston, but they are very hard to see. They are small – the size of a large domestic cat – primarily nocturnal, and extremely shy. Gray foxes are also one of only two wild dog species that can climb trees! They use their long claws to grip tree trunks and hang on as they jump from branch to branch. They are omnivores just like coyotes, although their favorite foods are birds, rabbits, and fruit like persimmons. We hope that our gray fox will stick around and maybe even have a family here. Keep an eye out for more of our wonderful wild dogs!
Photo credit: Christine Mansfield, Fritz Flohr Reynolds, Hidden Life of Houston Project, and California Department of Water Resources