Kit Foxes: Utah’s Desert Night Sentinels

Kit Foxes: Utah’s Desert Night Sentinels, Kit Fox, click to view larger image, Photo Courtesy and Copyright © 2009 Bryan Kluever
Adult Kit Fox
captured with a box trap.
Kit foxes are weighed,
fitted with a radio collar,
and then released
Courtesy & Copyright © 2010
Bryan Kluever
Graduate Research Assistant
Utah State University
Dept of Wildland Resources
One of the first things observers notice about the kit fox is its tiny size. Weighing in at a mere four pounds or so, Vulpes macrotis is among the smallest canids on the planet.

Kit Foxes: Utah’s Desert Night Sentinels
Often mistaken for swift foxes, kit foxes are a distinct species that sport larger ears and a leaner, more angular appearance. The small mammal has a long, black-tipped bushy tail and a yellowish-gray coat tinged with rusty orange.

Listed as a sensitive species in Utah, the carnivores live primarily in the state’s arid, western regions, where they reside in family dens and hunt for smaller mammals such as field mice and jackrabbits, as well as insects, birds, amphibians and fish.

But the diminutive hunter is susceptible to predation by a host of larger beasts, including coyotes, bobcats and golden eagles, says USU alum and wildlife biologist Bryan Kluever.

“With small size comes disadvantages; however, the advantage is increased agility and mobility,” he says.

Kit foxes have little difficulty leaping over sagebrush and rabbitbrush that towers over them and provides a welcome refuge from hungry predators. Given a choice, the foxes prefer to stay in open areas, where they can put their sense of sight to full use. Their vulnerability to larger members of the food chain partially explains the animal’s nocturnal habits.

Kit Fox, click to view larger image, Photo Courtesy and Copyright © 2009 Bryan Kluever
Adult kit fox prior to being
released. Note the black
collar antenna on the right
side of the fox.
Courtesy & Copyright © 2010
Bryan Kluever

“The life of a kit fox is ruled by the night,” Kluever says. “They are rarely active during the day and, when they are, this activity is limited to near dawn and dusk. This behavior is likely a function of eluding their enemies and avoiding harsh desert temperatures, especially in summer.”

One of the kit foxes’ most distinctive traits is its insatiable curiosity.

“If one word had to be used to describe the kit fox, it would be inquisitive,” says Kluever, who extensively studied the creatures at the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground. “Most canids cannot be captured with cage traps but kit foxes are one of the exceptions. When we released them after capture, they often began to walk toward us, rather than running away.”

Thanks to USU’s Quinney College of Natural Resources for supporting research and development of this Wild About Utah topic.

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Bryan Kluever
Text:     Kit Foxes: Utah’s Desert Night Sentinels, Mary-Ann Muffoletto, Utah State University College of Natural Resources
Bryan Kluever, wildlife biologist, Fort Carson Military Installation, Colorado.

Additional Reading:

Utah’s Desert Fox, Mary-Ann Muffoletto, Wild About Utah, May 27, 2010,

White, P. J. and K. Ralls. 1993. Reproduction and spacing patterns of kit foxes relative to changing prey availability. Journal of Wildlife Management 57:861–867 The Wildlife Society,

Kit Fox (Vulpes macrotis), Wildlife Notebook Series No. 9, Utah Division of Wildlife

Kit Fox (Vulpes macrotis), Species Fact Sheets, Utah Conservation Data Center, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources,

Tiger Salamander, Utah’s only salamander

Tiger Salamander, Ambystoma tigrinum. Utah’s only salamander, Courtesy Andrey Zharkikh, Photographer, licensed under CreativeCommons 2.0
Tiger Salamander
Ambystoma tigrinum
Courtesy Andrey Zharkikh, Photographer
License: Creative Commons 2.0
Tiger Salamanders, named for their bold black-and-orange stripes, are Utah’s only salamander. Secretive inhabitants of our forests, streams, and lakes, these amphibians are rarely seen. Tiger Salamanders spend most of their year underground, in moist burrows beneath logs and among tree roots. They come to the surface just once a year, emerging at night in the early spring to trek across the snow to newly-thawed wetlands.

Many people see Tiger Salamanders only when one accidentally falls into their window well. About 6 inches long, with a 6-inch tail, they are often mistaken for lizards even though they are more closely related to frogs. This is more obvious when you look at a salamander’s aquatic larvae, which hatch from tiny, shell-less eggs that resemble caviar. At first, they sport gills and have only tiny limbs. Usually, they metamorphose after about 2 ½ months, transforming into boldly-barred adults. Occasionally, if wetland conditions are safe, they can mature in their natal pond, becoming juvenile-like adults called paedomorphs, which can breed but resemble gigantic larvae.

Tiger Salamanders select very particular wetlands. They particularly look for bodies of water that don’t have any large, predatory fishes that would eat their eggs. Well-known examples of breeding sites in Utah include Lake Solitude in Big Cottonwood Canyon, Tony Grove Lake in Logan Canyon, and the aptly-named Salamander Lake in Stewart Canyon on the northeast slope of Mt. Timpanogos.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Andrew Durso.


Images: Courtesy Andrey Zharkikh, Photographer, licensed under CreativeCommons 2.0.
Text: Andrew Durso,

Additional Reading:

Amphibian Decline: Saving the Salamander, Karen Lips AAAS – The American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, DC 20005,, (Accessed: Feb 15, 2016)

Save the salamanders, unsung heroes of the forest, Brian Resnick, Science Reporter Vox, Interviewing Matthew Grey, University of Tennessee Knoxville,, (Accessed: Feb 15, 2016)

AmphibiaWeb: Information on amphibian biology and conservation. Ambystoma tigrinum. 2016. Berkeley, California: AmphibiaWeb. Available: (Accessed: Feb 15, 2016).

Our Barking Dogs, Coyotes

Our Barking Dogs: Coyotes | Coyote, Canis latrans, Courtesy US FWS, Steve Thompson, Photographer
Coyote, Canis latrans, Courtesy US FWS, Steve Thompson, Photographer
With the big game hunting season beginning, I reflect back on my first deer hunt in Utah. Arriving from Michigan in 1971, Utah friends took me into White Pine Lake above Logan. Alone on my stand, a large animal approached. Finely in my sights, a large, gorgeous male coyote in its prime. I fired and the coyote was dead before it slumped to the ground. Like Aldo Leopold after watching the “green fire” fade from the eyes of the she-wolf he shot, I resolved never to kill another coyote.

Since that long ago time, my admiration for this amazing animal has only heightened. It’s fascinating behavior, intelligence, and cultural significance are all worthy of mention.

Coyotes now occur throughout most of North America, as well as in parts of Latin America. It has been described as “the most vocal of all North American mammals”. Its penetrating range of vocalizations gave it the name Canis latrans, meaning “barking dog”. Its wild song awakens something deep within my primal being.

Coyote, Canis latrans, Courtesy US FWS, Tom Koerner, Photographer
Coyote, Canis latrans, Courtesy US FWS, Tom Koerner, Photographer
The coyote features prominently as a trickster figure in the folktales of America’s indigenous peoples. It was given the trickster role in light of its intelligence and adaptability. Some tribes, such as the Paiute, and Ute portray the coyote as the companion of the creator. In the Paiute creation myth, the coyote was created by the wolf as a companion, and the two created land by piling soil on the water-covered world. In Navajo mythology, the coyote was present in the First World with First Man and First Woman.

19th-century writers wrote of coyotes being kept in native villages in the Great Plains. Although shy, pups have been raised for hunting both as retrievers and pointers. In 1945 a tame coyote named “Butch”, had a short-lived career in cinema, appearing in Smoky and Ramrod before being shot while raiding a henhouse.

Coyotes were occasionally eaten by mountain men. It was sometimes featured in feasts of the Plains Indians, and coyote pups were eaten by the indigenous people of California. The taste of coyote meat has been likened to that of the wolf, and is more tender than pork when boiled.

At one location in Southern California, coyotes began relying on a colony of feral cats as a food source. Over time, the coyotes killed most of the cats, and then continued to eat the cat food placed by people who were maintaining the cat colony.

Fortunately, in my view, it is nearly impossible to eradicate coyotes from an area. Despite large-scale and expensive efforts to kill coyotes over the past 150 years, coyotes continue to thrive, as I was reminded on my run up SLC’s City Creek Canyon where two families on either side of the canyon serenaded on me.

Research suggests that when aggressively controlled, coyotes can increase their reproductive rate by breeding at an earlier age and having larger litters, with a higher survival rate among the young. This allows coyote populations to quickly bounce back, even when as much as 75 percent of their numbers are removed. For coexisting peacefully with this remarkable being, check out
Long live America’s song dog!

This is Jack Greene reading and writing for Wild About Utah.

Images: Courtesy US FWS, Tom Koerner and Steve Thompson, Photographers
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Additional Reading:


California Condors in Zion National Park

California Condors Zion National Park: Click for a larger image - Keith Day, a wildlife biologist with the Utah Division of Natural Resources, views a California condor nest from the Human History Museum in Zion National Park. The male condor died earlier this year as a result of lead poisoning, but the female and chick appear to be doing well. Photo Courtesy and Copyright Jessie Bunkley
Click for a larger image – Keith Day, a wildlife biologist with the Utah Division of Natural Resources, views a California condor nest from the Human History Museum in Zion National Park. The male condor died earlier this year as a result of lead poisoning, but the female and chick appear to be doing well. Photo Courtesy and Copyright Jessie Bunkley
Condors in Zion National Park:
Here we have Zion National Park. We’re looking up the canyon at all these beautiful, beautiful cliffs and rock structures. This is one of the reasons [why] people come, but when you talk to people who come here, even from around the world, one of the things on their list is condors. Can I see a condor? So there’s a lot of interest about condors and to think that in Arizona and Utah we have probably a quarter of the California condors that exist in the whole world, that’s kind of an exciting thought.

My name’s Keith Day. I’m a wildlife biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources in Cedar City, Utah and I am responsible, in some regard, for California condor management.

All of the releases for this population have occurred in Arizona and this population is focused around the Grand Canyon ecosystem. The birds discovered Utah and really started moving up into Utah by 2005. And now, essentially, any bird will travel to Utah at some point in time for some period of time during the year. And this pair in Zion this year moved into the main canyon. They’re in an area where they’re actually visible from the visitor center and the administration center and the museum, so we’ve been able to keep a close eye on them. The chick has been produced, it’s been observed on several occasions, which is really exciting. The park has been really good about condor issues and maintaining support for the condor recovery program and they’re really excited to host the first nesting pair in the state of Utah for a couple of hundred years. The sad thing about it is the male of the pair was found dead and so the female is raising the chick by herself and apparently doing just fine, the chick is still thriving.

There is paleontological and archeological evidence that condors existed across the country in historic times. As white settlement increased there seems to have been some impact on the condors and one of the biggest things is lead poisoning. That was recognized years and years ago as one of the challenges for condors. We still have that issue. We’ve done really well as far as establishing this Arizona-Utah population and the populations in California. But, we still have death in the population and when we can determine the cause of that death, the majority of them are due to lead poisoning. Studies have indicated that lead poisoning is tied most specifically to lead ammunition and although it’s a good thing to have remains of game animals in the field for condors, it’s not a good thing if they have lead in them. And that’s what’s led to the voluntary programs in Arizona and Utah to ask hunters to use non-lead ammunition when they’re hunting in condor range. And we’ve had a lot of support for that here in Utah.

To see them soaring around, especially when they’re on the wing on a thermal they’re really really quite graceful. You know they have that distinct black feathering on the adults with the white under the wing. I just enjoy seeing wildlife and I think that most people in Utah do. We talk about one of our mottos in Utah is “Life Elevated” one of the reasons people come to Utah is because of the wild aspect, the scenic aspect, we have a diversity of habitats, and the wildlife aspect. We have a whole panoply of things that add to the value of life in Utah because of our wildness and condors are a part of that. And the fact that they’re a listed species and they’re so few really kind of accentuates that in that regard. Well this is Keith Day, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources California condor recovery program, in a windy day in Zion National Park. Thanks for listening to Wild About Utah and take care.

Images: Courtesy and Copyright Jessie Bunkley
Text: Jessie Bunkley. Wildlife technician, Utah DWR/Jessie Bunkley, Graduate Teaching Assistant, BNR, Utah State University with assistance from Keith Day, Utah DWR

Sources & Additional Reading

California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) recovery plan. Third revision., US FWS,

California condor (Gymnogyps californianus), ECOS Environmental Conservation Online System, US FWS,