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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of four. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

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.


Jace Stansbury said...


Scent patch- what a cool idea.

Vandalism has been one of the main fears I've had about setting out my camera, and unfortunatley had one of mine stolen and also experienced "revenge rage". I cursed at the top of my lungs swearing that if I found the perpetrators they would pay! Guess that's just one of the pitfalls of being a camera trapper....

Have you ever tried hanging a feather by a string near a camera trap? I've read that trappers use this technique when trapping foxes. The movement of the feather in the wind is supposedly a good attractant. Heard it's also good for bobcat.

Camera Trap Codger said...

Hi Jace, Sorry to hear that you lost a cam. Seems it's practically impossible to get away from people these days.

I made "fake feathers" last year out of that twisty spiraling silver wind flagging that gardeners use to scare birds. It's supposed to work with more visual predators like cats. I tied inch square pieces to threads and strung them out near a camera where I had gotten a butt shot of a bobcat, but I never got another cat picture there.

I'm going to just use the whole streamer next time.