How many types of foxes are there?

A kit fox in the Mojave Desert investigates a plastic model of a desert tortoise used in a research program at the University of Georgia. [Photo courtesy Collin Richter]

Q. I live in the Atlanta area and recently heard that a fox had been seen in our suburban neighborhood. Should the community be concerned about this? What precautions should we take? Also, how many types of foxes are there and what kind are likely to be here?

A. Foxes are to be appreciated, not feared. They are fascinating creatures and more abundant in suburban areas than most people realize. They are often nocturnal, which makes it less likely that people will see them. Two foxes, red and gray, live in your area. They vary so much from each other that mammologists assign them to different genetic groups. Both are attractive animals with pointed noses, fluffy tails, and nimble movements.

A gray fox is a small, sleek mammal with a silver-gray body tinged with orange. The tail sports a black stripe on top and a black tip. Some geneticists consider a gray fox on the California Channel Islands to be a separate species. Frequent in wooded areas and swamps, gray foxes are sometimes called cat foxes because of their ability to climb trees. The gray fox ranges from eastern Canada through the southeastern United States to Central and South America.