Red fox at Iowa State is gaining attention, making central campus its home

January 14th, 2021

By Amber Friedrichsen


The red fox has been spotted by several individuals on campus. Adam Janke, assistant professor in natural resource ecology and management, said observing and taking pictures of the fox is acceptable, but the animal should not be approached or disturbed.

Iowa State University’s central campus is a place for students to take a walk, study under a tree, or relax in a hammock. But students aren’t the only ones taking advantage of the peaceful environment. A certain red fox has also frequently been seen roaming the area.

Adam Janke, assistant professor in natural resource ecology and management, said there are two kinds of foxes found in Iowa: red and gray. Red foxes, like the one seen on campus, are by far the most common.

Although finding a red fox in Iowa isn’t necessarily rare, Janke said finding one in such a populated area seems uncommon. The campus fox’s habits are a bit abnormal, too.

“I think it’s pretty exceptional that there’s a red fox that’s decided to live among 36,000 people,” Janke said. “The other thing that’s pretty interesting about this fox is that it seems to be rather active during the daytime.”

Foxes are typically nocturnal, awake and active at night. Janke said when animals get acclimated to urban settings, they tend to adjust their behavior to their surroundings. They get habituated to people and don’t view humans as a threat to survival.

Another reason foxes seem to thrive in the Ames area is the lack of coyotes. Both species have been known to live in cities, but not in the same cities.

“What we find in this constant back and forth between coyotes and foxes is that if you have a lot of one, you don’t have a lot of the other,” Janke said. “They can make a living and be safe here in a landscape where a coyote is not tempted to come in and bother. It’s kind of a neat little urban ecosystem.”

As for the particular fox on campus, there is a chance that it is not the only one. Red foxes commonly pair up and are challenging to differentiate. Two of these animals tend to stick together and eventually raise young.

“It could be two foxes that we are seeing at different times,” Janke said. “It would be hard to distinguish. If they did have coloration differences in their coat, it would be very subtle.”

Whether or not the fox on campus is lone or has a doppelganger, Janke said it is best to not interact. The animal should not be approached or disturbed, but observing and taking pictures is acceptable.

“If you see it running around on campus, I hope you pause and watch it because it really is not that common,” Janke said. “It’s cool to see animals learn how to make a living on campus with all of us.”

Welcome Earl!

Economics professor Dermot Hayes and Director of Career Services Mike Gaul helped Daniel J. Robison, Endowed Dean’s Chair of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, dub this new member of the CALS family Earl. Why Earl? It’s in honor of Earl Heady, the namesake of Heady Hall where this little creature is often found. Heady (’45 PhD ag economics) was a world renown agricultural economist and faculty member at Iowa State.