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Lewis & Clark as Naturalists
The Collection: Species Details Lewis and Clark as Naturalists
Mammal    Species Name:
Vulpes vulpes
Original name, or synonym is [Canis] Vulpes Linnaeus, 1758.

Common Name:
Red Fox


Fort Clatsop, Oregon   February 21, 1806

A fox of many colors

Reading journal entries relating to the foxes Lewis and Clark encountered can be somewhat confusing.  They refer to silver, large red, common red, grey, kit, swift, and black foxes.  Realistically, they probably observed only two kinds of foxes, red foxes and kit or swift foxes.  What threw the men off is the variation that red foxes show in the color patterns of their fur.  Red foxes can be silver, nearly all black, or rust-to-red, and it takes a trained eye to see the red fox under all those color variants.

Another source of confusion for the men was the introduction of European red foxes into the eastern United States around 1790.  This was for hunting purposes.  At the time of reintroduction, people saw the North American red fox as a species distinct from the European one.  Knowing this, it is understandable why Lewis and Clark referred to two kinds of red fox.

The black fox they mentioned was not the black color variant of the red fox.  That dark-furred mammal with a long tail is the fisher, a member of the weasel family only distantly related to the wild dogs.

For more information about this North American mammal, click here.

Journal Entries:

The Corps did see foxes and believed that they were seeing new species, colored differently from the familiar red fox in the eastern United ...  more>>

References Linné, Carl von, Systema Naturae per Regna Tria Naturae, Secundum Classes, Ordines, Genera, Species, Cum Characteribus, Differentiis, Synonymis, Locis, ed. 10, 2 vols, Holmiae: impensis direct. Laurentii Salvii, 1758

see following caption

See following caption
red fox

See following caption
red fox on grass

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