|"Fox" is a generic term applied to any one of roughly 27 species of small to medium-sized canids in the tribe vulpini with sharp features and a brush-like tail. By far the most common species of fox is the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), although different species are found on almost every continent. The presence of fox-like carnivores all over the globe has led to their appearance in the popular culture and folklore of many nations, tribes, and other cultural groups.
The largest species within the genus Vulpes, the Red Fox has a native range spanning most of North America and Eurasia, with several populations in North Africa. A subspecies, the Japanese Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes japonica) migrated from India to China and eventually to Japan. It is also known by the Japanese name kitsune.
The Red Fox has been introduced to Australia, where it poses a serious conservation problem. There is some debate on whether or not red foxes are native to North America. It has been hypothesized that the North American red fox originated from European red foxes, which introduced into the Southeastern United States around 1750. It may have interbred with the scarce indigenous population to produce a hybrid population.
Three subspecies of Red Fox are found in India: Vulpes vulpes Montana (the Tibetan Fox), found in Ladakh and the Himalayas, Vulpes vulpes griffithi (the Kashmir Fox) found in Jammu and Kashmir less the Ladakh sector, and Vulpes vulpes pusilla (the Desert Fox) found in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan and in Kutch, Gujarat.
The Modern English "fox" is derived from Old English with the same spelling, the Old English word itself comes from the Proto-Germanic word "*fukh", compare German "Fuchs", Gothic "fauho", Old Norse "foa" and Dutch "vos", which corresponds to the Proto-Indo-European word "*puk" meaning "tail" (compare Sanskrit "puccha" meaning "tail" as well). The bushy tail is also the source of words for "fox" in Welsh ("llwynog", from "llwyn" meaning "bush").
Red foxes are omnivorous, this dietary adaptability being one of the main factors in the species wide distribution. The majority of their diet consists of invertebrates, such as insects, molluscs, earthworms and crayfish. Common vertebrate prey includes rodents such as mice and voles, rabbits, birds, eggs, amphibians, small reptiles and fish. Foxes have been known to kill deer fawns. In Scandinavia, predation by red fox is the most important mortality cause for neonatal roe deer. In urban areas, they will scavenge on human refuse, and even eat out of pet food bowls left outside. Analysis of country and urban fox diets show that urban foxes have a higher proportion of scavenged food than country foxes. They typically eat 0.5 -1 kg (1- 2 lb) of food a day.
They usually hunt alone in meadows, the natural environment of their most common prey items; mice and voles. With their acute sense of hearing, they can locate rodents through the thick grass and in their underground burrows. They wait until the mouse or vole comes above ground, then the fox jumps high in the air and pounces on its prey in a cat-like manner. Foxes tend to be extremely possessive of their food and will not share it with others. Exceptions to this rule include dog foxes feeding vixens during courtship and vixens feeding cubs.
Red foxes have proportionately small stomachs for their size and can only eat half as much food in relation to their body weight as wolves and dogs can (about 10% versus 20%). In periods of scarcity, foxes will cache their food as a resort against starvation. They typically store their food in shallow 5-10 cm deep holes. Foxes tend to build as many small caches as possible, and scatter them across their territories rather than storing their food in a central location. The reason behind this behavior (as opposed to hoarding behavior seen in other animals) is to prevent a loss of the fox's entire food supply in the event that another animal finds the store.
Most foxes live 2 to 3 years but can survive for up to 10 years, or even longer, in captivity. Foxes are generally smaller than other members of the family Canidae such as wolves, jackals, and domestic dogs. Fox-like features typically include an acute muzzle (a "fox face") and bushy tail. Other physical characteristics vary according to their habitat. For example, the Fennec Fox (and other species of foxes adapted to life in the desert, such as the kit fox) has large ears and short fur, whereas the Arctic Fox has small ears and thick, insulating fur. Another example is the Red Fox which has a typical auburn pelt ending normally with white marking.
Unlike many canids, foxes are usually not pack animals. Typically, they are solitary, opportunistic feeders that hunt live prey (especially rodents). Using a pouncing technique practiced from an early age, they are usually able to kill their prey quickly. Foxes also gather a wide variety of other foods ranging from grasshoppers to fruit and berries.
Foxes are normally extremely wary of humans and are not kept as pets (with the exception of the Fennec); however, the Silver Fox was successfully domesticated in Russia after a 45 year selective breeding program. This selective breeding also resulted in physical traits appearing that are frequently seen in domestic cats, dogs, and other animals: pigmentation changes, floppy ears, and curly tails.
Foxes include members of the following genera:
* Alopex (Arctic Fox, sometimes included with the "true" foxes in genus Vulpes)
* Cerdocyon (Crab-eating Fox)
* Chrysocyon (Maned Wolf in English, "Big Fox" in Guarani and "Reddish Fox" in Spanish)
* Dusicyon (Falkland Island Fox)
* Lycalopex (Hoary Fox)
* Otocyon (Bat-eared Fox)
* Pseudalopex (four South American species, including the Culpeo)
* Urocyon (Gray Fox, Island Fox and Cozumel Fox)
* Vulpes (the ten or so species of "true" foxes, including the Red Fox, Vulpes vulpes)
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