On Foxes and Woodrats

By Amy Renfranz (dearnaturalist@gmail.com)

Article Published: Feb. 14, 2013 | Modified: Feb. 14, 2013
On Foxes and Woodrats

Snow cover and a faithful canine companion are useful in finding wildlife signs. On this day we found tracks, scat and blood. Read on to learn more.

Photo submitted

A few days ago while snowshoeing in the early morning in the forest near my home, I came upon several small pools of blood. These scarlet signs and the tracks near them unveiled to me two items, which I had not before known.

First, and beyond a doubt, a family of foxes has moved in to the neighborhood. A family of foxes is officially a “skulk.” There is a skulk skulking around in the darkness near my house.

Secondly, there are Appalachian woodrats that share the woods with these foxes and me. Maybe before, I had confused their tracks for that of the ever abundant squirrel.

There was no confusing on that snowy morning, however. I found the fresh carcass of a woodrat at the end of the trail of blood and tracks.

Do you recoil at the mention of the word “rat?” If so, I beg you to do an image search on the Web for the Appalachian woodrat. Your heart will melt at the sight of the sweet creatures with their fuzzy tails and big Mickey Mouse ears.

The first time I ever personally laid eyes on a woodrat, I was exploring the inside of a hollow bridge on the Blue Ridge Parkway. One thing about these rats is that they are not particularly afraid of humans.

The little fellow stood and looked at me as I stood and looked at him (or her). It reminded me quite a lot of the guinea pigs that I had as pets when I was growing up. Yet, this little beast was fearless and also much cleaner.

The woodrat makes a pile of bedding to sleep in and raise young. Separate from its bed is the latrine area. My first woodrat acquaintance also kept piles of coins, snail shells, feathers and an assortment of bones. As it turns out, I also collect these very same things.

And, so, I am fond of this particular rodent species.

On the snowy morning that my dog and I found the dead woodrat, I was both saddened and proud.

The Appalachian woodrat is an endangered species. It is a victim of deforestation, raccoon roundworm, climate change and, apparently, foxes; foxes being the only respectable thing on that list.

Why was I proud to find the poor little beast? Because the dead woodrat at my feet was once alive, had lived right under our noses and, in particular, was living under the protection of our town.

You see, the forest near my house is public land. You can visit it any old time you please, as it is land that the town of Boone owns above the State Farm fields and is accessible through a network of wonderful gravel hiking trails that connect to the Greenway.

Skulks and endangered woodrats are living smack dab in the middle of our town. My dear Boone, I have never been more proud.

If you have a question concerning flora and fauna, please email (dearnaturalist@gmail.com) All of your questions will be answered. One or two will be featured next week. See you on the trails.

Amy Renfranz is an interpretive park guide on the Blue Ridge Parkway. She is a certified naturalist through the Yellowstone Institute and a certified environmental educator in the state of North Carolina. Her comments are made independently and do not reflect the views of the National Park Service.

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