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Black bears keep gray foxes safe from coyotes

Black bears keep gray foxes safe from coyotes

Bear friendly

Gray foxes may have learned to hang out close to black bears to stay safe from coyotes, according to a recently published University of New Hampshire study.

The researchers discovered this by looking at where gray foxes live when bears are in and then out of hibernation — their long winter naps.

During most of the year, gray foxes get some protection when bears are near because the bears keep coyotes away. During winter, however, the coyotes will move into the bears’ home territory and the foxes move out, the study found.

“In our field of research, there is something called the ‘landscape of fear’ —  the idea that there is a pecking order and that both predators and prey will change their behavior to avoid getting killed,” said Rem Moll, assistant professor of wildlife ecology and lead author of the study. “For decades this was overlooked, so there aren’t a lot of studies showing the connection between black bears and coyotes — two of the most common carnivores in the U.S. — but this work suggests that fear is important in defining the species roles in the ecosystem.”

The study was conducted in Nevada near Lake Tahoe. The researchers came to their conclusions by monitoring all of the top meat eaters in the area, which also included bobcats.

Gray foxes aren’t found in Montana, although they live as far south as South America and across the Northeast. They eat small animals like mice, voles and rabbits.  

About the size of a house cat, gray foxes weigh 6 to 15 pounds. Like a cat, they can climb trees even though they are a member of the dog family. Similar to squirrels, their wrists rotate to help them climb down. Climbing helps them escape from other animals that may eat them, such as coyotes.

— Brett French,


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