A community in northwest Montana is getting a glimpse into the seldom seen color phases of red foxes.
Beneath the steep and jagged peaks of the bordering mountains of the Mission and Swan ranges the lush landscapes of the Flathead Valley reveals a bounty of diverse wildlife.
Amanda Rassmussen and her two daughters Evie and Julie have lived in their current house for 12 years now. They recently had an interesting sight out of their kitchen window that they’d never seen before.
“I was up my neighbor’s driveway and thought it was a cat at first and realized it was not a cat it was a fox,” Amanda recalled.
It was indeed a red fox indeed, but not like any fox she had seen before, “I then noticed the different color variations of her pattern but still had no idea there was something extra special about her.”
The red fox is usually recognized by its reddish coat and its white-tipped tail but this species has three distinct color phases.
There’s the one we are all familiar with and just mentioned with the standard red coat with black markings on its feet and ears.
The silver fox has red fur replaced by black and the cross fox is mostly red with an increased amount of black on the legs and underfur.
The darkened hair on the shoulders and back forms the "cross" from which it derives its name.
What Amanda saw was one of these distinct color variations of red foxes the cross fox. The color morph is a partial melanin color variation. Which is a mutation that makes the skin and hair a dark color.
According to the Journal of Mammalogy, this color phase is considered to show up in red fox populations between 2%-to25% of the time with the higher percentage usually adamant in Canada.
The Rasmussen’s got to experience this special fox multiple times as it frequented the area and then as it comes with spring, the fox revealed her little ones to the whole family.
“It was extra exciting when the babies showed up, that was just icing on the cake,” Amanda said.
Red, cross, and silver foxes were at one time classified as separate species because of their different color patterns.
It was then discovered that these variants can occur in the same litter, and their rank was changed to that of color phases.
The prominent white-tipped tail is the distinguishing feature for all these color phases.
Other members of the community were able to learn about and witness this unique fox as well.
“It definitely brought some chatter to the community. We are kind of spread out so not a lot of face to face talking, but we have a neighborhood site, and there was a lot of chatter on the neighborhood site.” Amanda told MTN News.
But foxes aren’t the only animal they can see right in their backyard.
They’ve seen all walks of life like giant grizzlies and mountain lions. “We live in a walking path for lots of animals,” Amanda said.
The communication with their neighbors also serves as a way to be responsible.
“It’s just nice to stay connected that way and say hey the bears are out of hibernation the fox is out she has,” said Amanda.
From searching rocks to looking for sheds and animals the Rasmussen’s are experiencing Montana every way they can.
“We like seeing what we can see -- just out and about walking around,” Amanda concluded.