Gray Ghost of the Beartooth

Crabtree, R.L.

Yellowstone Science, Vol. 1 Issue 3 pp. 13-16


Zero wind and clear skies at sunrise hasten the take-off of an aerial wildlife survey. Both pilot and biologist prepare themselves for a morning flight over the largest contiguous area of alpine tundra in the lower 48 states-the remote and desolate Beartooth Plateau. The low angle sunrise back lights a grayish doglike creature loping across an alpine meadow, not of grass but deep.snow. It is mid-January at 10,500 feet, just outside the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park, and the creature is a fox. In areas uninhabited by coyotes during winter, Cooke City residents as well as wildlife biologists note the occurrence of these mostly gray and occasionally reddish foxes in high-elevation areas. One ponders where this creature comes from and how it survives the harsh environment. Its presence here is even more puzzling when one realizes that this animal is considered a North American red fox-the same species as the foxes of lowland Iowa corn fields. But which subspecies is this high elevation fox? The answer to these questions lie, in part, with its surprising taxonomy and evolutionary history, or does it?

Patrick Cross1993