HUDSON — With Halloween fast approaching, visitors to McLean County’s Comlara Park might think they’re seeing a ghostly apparition.
But the white fox that has been haunting the park northwest of Hudson is real.
And it’s a real mystery.
Michael Steffa, director of county parks and recreation, began receiving reports of the animal about three weeks ago.
The fox has a thick white coat, with grayish hairs underneath, a bushy white tail, black nose and dark eyes with a yellowish tint.
Based on its “appearance and behavior,” wildlife biologist Bob Bluett of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources said it looks like one of the domesticated strains of red fox that have been bred for their fur. But it’s not known where the fox came from and how it ended up at Comlara Park.
Bluett said such an animal could be kept by someone with a furbearing animal breeders permit, but he didn’t know if anyone in the area has such a permit.
The sightings have been made on the west side of the park by boaters and fishermen, some of whom have tossed a few fish to the fox, he said. At least one approached the fox to pet it, Steffa said, something he “definitely would not recommend.”
“Even if it’s domesticated, it still has a wild streak,” Steffa said.
Bluett said he is “a little bit concerned” by the apparent tameness of the fox and the possibility it could get hit by a car. He said “technically it is a red fox,” not an exotic animal, so its presence shouldn’t cause any environmental problems.
“Obviously, it’s been in the area a while. It has everything it needs to get through the winter,” Bluett said, noting that it appeared healthy and “the pelt is in good condition.”
Angelo Capparella, associate professor of biological sciences at Illinois State University, also said the park provides a good habitat with plenty of food, assuming the fox can hunt for itself.
He said the white coloration shouldn’t interfere with its ability to catch prey. However, it could make it more vulnerable to an attack from a coyote, because “predators tend to aim for anomalies in appearance or behavior,” he said.
Capparella said the fox is not an albino, which would mean “there are no pigment cells at all,” and which generally results in pinkish eyes, for example.
At this point, Steffa said there have been no encounters with campers, and there are no plans to attempt to trap the animal.
Asked what would happen if the fox started coming up to campers begging for hot dogs, Bluett laughed, “He’d have to carry a big stick and fight off the raccoons first.”
Red fox facts
Length: 36 to 46 inches
Weight: 8 to 15 pounds
Food: Rabbits and mice make up 60 percent of a typical diet
Miscellaneous: The large, bushy tail is used for balance while hunting. They are good swimmers and can travel faster than 30 mph when pursued
Source: Illinois Department of Natural Resources