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All Things Fox
Information and pictures on Foxes.
Educational, Zoological, and Classification info.

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"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 Foxes 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").

Dietary habits

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 Foxes 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.

General characteristics

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 (especiallyFoxes 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.

Classification

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)

Scientific classification

Kingdom:

Animalia

Phylum:

Chordata

Class:

Mammalia

Order:

Carnivora

Family:

Canidae

Tribe:

Vulpini

Reproduction

The Red Fox breeding period varies widely due to its broad distribution; southern populations breed from December to January, central populations from January to February and northern populations from February to April. Females have an annual estrous period of between 1 and 6 days; ovulation is spontaneous. Copulation is loud and short, usually lasting no more than 20 seconds. Although a female may mate with several males (who fight amongst each other for the right), she will eventually settle with only one.

Males will supply food to females up to and after birthing, otherwise Foxes leaving the female alone with her kits (also called cubs or pups) in a "maternity den". An average litter size is five kits, but may be as large as 13. Kits are born blind and may weigh as much as 150 grams (0.33 lb). Their eyes are open by two weeks and the kits have taken their first exploratory steps out of the den by five weeks; by ten weeks they are fully weaned.

In autumn of the same year, the young foxes will disperse and claim their own territories. The Red Fox reaches sexual maturity by ten months of age, and may live for 12 years in captivity but will usually only live three years in the wild.

Vocalization

Foxes do not come together in chorus like wolves or coyotes. Fox families, however, keep in contact with a wide array of different sounds. These sounds grade into one another and span five octaves; each fox has its own characteristically individual voice. Fox noises can be divided, with a few exceptions, into two different groups: contact sounds and interaction sounds. The former is used by foxes communicating over long distances, the latter in close quarters.

"Wow-wow-wow"
The best-known vulpine noise is a sort of barking that spans three to five syllables. "Conversations" made up of these noises often occur between widely spaced foxes. As their distance decreases, the sound becomes quieter. A cub is greeted with the quietest version of this sound.

The alarm bark
This monosyllabic sound is made by an adult to warn kits of danger. From far away it sounds like a sharp bark, but at closer range it resembles a muffled cough, like a football rattle or a stick along a picket fence.

Gekkering
This is a stuttering, throaty noise made at aggressive encounters. It is most frequently heard in the courting season, or when kits are at play.

The vixen's wail
This is a long, drawn-out, monosyllabic, and rather eerie wail most commonly made during the breeding season; it is widely thought that it is made by a vixen in heat summoning dog-foxes. Contrary to common belief, however, it is also made by the males, evidently serving some other purpose as well. This noise fits into neither the contact nor the interaction group.

Conservation

Foxes are readily found in cities and cultivated areas and (depending upon species) seem to adapt reasonably well to human presence.

Red foxes have been introduced into Australia and some other countries for hunting. Australia lacks similar carnivores, and introduced foxes prey on native wildlife, some to the point of extinction. A similar introduction occurred in the 16-1700's in America, where European Reds (Vulpes vulpes) were brought to the colonies for fox hunting, where they decimated the American red fox (Vulpes veloxi) population through more aggressive hunting and breeding. Interbreeding with American Reds, European Red's traits eventually pervaded the genepool, leaving European and American foxes now virtually identical.

Other fox species do not adapt as well as the European red fox, and are endangered in their native environments. Key among these are the Crab-Eating fox and the African Bat-Eared fox. Other foxes such as fennecs, are not endangered, but will be if humans encroach further into their habitat.

Foxes can also be helpful for agricultural purposes. They have been successfully employed to control pests on fruit farms, where they leave the fruit intact.

Historians believe foxes have been imported into non-native environments long before the colonial era. The first example of the introduction of the fox into a new habitat by humans seems to be Neolithic Cyprus. Stone carvings representing foxes have been found in the early settlement of Göbekli Tepe in eastern Turkey.

Fur trade

The Red Fox is of some importance in the fur industry. The fur of a silver fox was once considered by the natives of New England to be worth over 40 beaver skins. A chieftain accepting a gift of silver fox fur was seen as an act of reconciliation. Silver foxes were first commercially bred on Prince Edward Island, Canada in 1878. Red foxes are among the most commonly bred animals in fur farms, along with American Minks. Today, silver fox is traditionally used for collars and cuffs, wraps and stoles, while common red fox fur is used for trimming and for full fur garments.

Livestock predation

Red foxes are generally considered to be the most serious predator of free range poultry. The safest option known in poultry protection is to keep the flock and the fox physically separated, usually with high fencing. A fence needs to be at least 2 m high in order to keep out most foxes, though on some rare occasions, a determined fox might succeed in climbing over. Surplus killing will often occur in enclosed spaces such as huts, with discarded feathers and headless bodies usually being the main indicators of fox predation.

Although poultry is the most commonly-taken domesticated prey, red foxes will on some occasions kill young or small animals, particularly lambs and kids. In exceptional circumstances, they may attack sub-adult and adult sheep and goats and sometimes small calves. Foxes will usually kill lambs or kids by repeatedly biting the neck and back, which is usually the result from young animals being caught while lying down. Other than with poultry, fox predation on livestock can be distinguished from dog or coyote predation by the fact that foxes rarely cause severe ossular damage when feeding. Red foxes also are noted for carrying small carcasses back to their dens to feed their young which may account for some poultry, lambs and kids that disappear and are never found. Scientific studies in Britain find that between 0.5% and at most 3% of otherwise viable lambs may be taken by foxes, a statistically insignificant amount when compared to the mortality caused by exposure, starvation and disease.

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