Friday, November 23, 2007
Scent Patch update
The gray fox visited the patch twice before Thanksgiving. (I discovered that the camera at the other patch is broken.) On both occasions it did its usual neck rubbing thing. I guess I expected it to rub against the patch like a cat, but this didn't happen. It did the usual canid neck sliding behavior with the hindquarters up. We've seen this before.
I suppose it's possible that the scent anointing behavior of the gray fox is less flexible than that of cats, and this raises questions of classical ethology that still fascinate me.
Is the gray fox unable to anoint itself with smelly scents if they are not on the ground?
Obviously this fox took the time to sniff and probably lick the scent patch, but there was no picture of it rubbing against the patch. Instead, it rubbed its neck on the ground where there was no scent.
This is a good example of a fixed action pattern elicited by an appropriate stimulus. Here though, the action is not oriented to the appropriate stimulus because the scent is not in the right place--on the ground.
It reminds me of the textbook example of the greylag goose rolling the displaced egg into its nest. If you remove the egg while the broody goose is retrieving it, she continues the action to completion and to no avail.
I'll have to get more pictures to make sure the fox can't rub against the scent patch. That will convince me that gray foxes are wired to self anoint in a stereotyped fashion only on the ground.
If a bobcat catches wind of the patch, we'll see another and more versatile example of self anointing behavior.