The Channel Island fox (Urocyon littoralis) is a cat-sized carnivore and descendant of the gray fox that colonized the Channel Islands approximately 10,000 years ago. It is the only carnivore unique to California and is the smallest fox species in the United States.
Height: 12-13 inches.
Length: 23-31 inches (including tail length).
Weight: 4-5 lbs.
Lifespan: 4-6 years; some individuals have been known to live up to 15 years.
The Channel Island fox has gray fur on its head, reddish sides and white fur on its belly, throat and lower half of its face.
The Channel Island fox is opportunistic in its diet: it eats things like summer holly, cholla cactus, rose, sumac, nightshade, native deer mice, ground-nesting birds, grasshoppers and crickets.
Six years ago, approximately 6,000 Channel Island foxes existed. Today, they number fewer than 1,660. On Santa Cruz Island, the fox population has fallen from 1,500 to fewer than 100 animals within a five-year period.
Each subspecies of island fox inhabits a separate island. The subspecies are: Santa Cruz Island Fox (U.I. santacruzae), San Miguel Island Fox (U.I. littoralis), Santa Rosa Island Fox (U.I. santarosae) and Santa Catalina Island Fox (U.I. catalinae)
Channel island foxes can be found in all types on habitats of the Channel islands. This includes valley and foothill grasslands, coastal sage/scrub, coastal bluff, sand dune areas, island chapparral, southern coastal oak woodland, island woodland, southern riparian woodland, pine forests and coastal marshes.
Compared with the gray fox, island foxes are relatively diurnal (active during the day). They communicate with one another through sight, sound, and smell. Visually, island foxes show signs of dominance or submission through facial expressions and body posture. They communicate by barking and sometimes growling. Their keen sense of smell plays an important role in the marking of territories.
Channel Island foxes mate for life and breed only once a year. Born in the protection of a den, pups are blind and helpless with short dark brown fur at birth. They emerge from the den at about one month of age, much furrier but still considerably darker than adults. They begin to resemble their parents by late summer.
Years of livestock grazing have replaced native brush with open grassland and exposed the fox to new predators like the golden eagle, which moved onto the islands after DDT had eliminated bald eagle populations.
- Endangered Species Act (ESA): In March 2004, four subspecies of the Island Fox were classified as a federally protected endangered species: the Santa Cruz Island Fox, Santa Rosa Island Fox, San Miguel Island Fox and the Santa Catalina Island Fox. Two species are a species of concern: the San Clemente Island Fox, and the San Nicolas Island Fox.
- IUCN Red List: Critically endangered.
- The Channel Island fox is listed as threatened by the State of California. It is protected by California state law.