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A fox is a member of any of 27 species of small omnivorous canids. The animal most commonly called a fox in the Western world is the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), although different species of foxes can be found on almost every continent. The presence of foxes all over the globe has led to their appearance in the popular culture and folklore of many nations, tribes, and other cultural groups.
Fox terminology is different from that used for most canids. Male foxes are known as dogs, tods or reynard, females are referred to as vixens, and their young are called kits or cubs, as well as pups. A group of foxes is a skulk. The eponymous name 'Charlie' is derived from Charles James Fox who was a disliked landowner in the eighteenth century.
With most species roughly the size of a domestic cat, foxes are smaller than other members of the family Canidae, such as wolves, jackals, and domestic dogs. Recognizable characteristics also include pointed muzzles and bushy tails. Other physical characteristics vary according to their habitat. For example, the Desert Fox has large ears and short fur, whereas the Arctic Fox has small ears and thick, insulating fur.
Unlike many canids, foxes are not pack animals. 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 nearly always extremely wary of humans, and are not kept as pets, but the Silver Fox was successfully domesticated in Russia after a 45 year selective breeding program. However, foxes are to be readily found in cities and domestic gardens.
Foxes do not come together in chorus like wolves or coyotes do. 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 most well-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 cubs 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.
In some countries, such as Australia, with no strong competitors, imported foxes quickly devastate native wildlife and become a serious invasive pest. On the other hand, many fox species are endangered. Foxes can be used for helpful environmental purposes as well. They have been successfully employed to control pests on fruit farms, leaving the fruit intact.
Historians believe foxes were being 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.
The Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus or Vulpes lagopus) is a small fox native to cold Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere. It is common to see an arctic fox in all three tundra biomes. Although some authorities have suggested placing them in the genus Vulpes, they have long been considered the sole member of the genus Alopex. Artic foxes have smaller, more rounded ears, a more rounded braincase, and a slightly shorter and broader muzzle than the red fox, Vulpes vulpes (Clutton-Brock et al. 1976). The arctic fox Occurs in two distinct color morphs, "blue" and "white". Each color phase also changes seasonally—"blue" moults from chocolate brown in summer to lighter brown tinged with blue sheen in winter. In winter, "white" is almost pure white, while in summer it is grey to brownish-grey dorsally, and light grey to white below. Color morphs are determined genetically at a single locus, white being recessive. The "blue" morph comprises less than 1% of the population through most of its continental range, but this proportion increases westwards in Alaska, and on islands. Head-and-body length: 55 cm (21.7 inches) (male); 53 cm (21 inches) (female). Tail length: 31 cm (12.2 inches) (male); 30 cm (11.8 inches) (female). Shoulder height: 25-30 cm (9.9-11.8 inches). Weight: 3.8 kg (8.2 lb) (male); 3.1 kg (6.7 lb) (female). Arctic Foxes eat a wide variety of things, including lemmings, Arctic Hare, birds and their eggs and carrion. The most important of these foods is lemming. A family of foxes can eat dozens of lemmings each day. During April and May, Arctic Foxes also prey on Ringed Seal pups when the young animals are confined to a snow den and are relatively helpless. Sometimes they follow polar bears and eat the left over prey. When their normal prey is scarce, Arctic Foxes scavenge the leftovers of larger predators, such as Polar Bears, even though Polar Bears' prey includes the Arctic Fox itself. The foxes tend to form monogamous pairs in the breeding season. Litters of about half a dozen to a dozen whelps are born in the early summer, a very large litter size for mammals. The parents raise the young in a large den. Arctic foxes' habitats are tundra and coastal areas. The white morph is generally associated with true tundra habitat, the blue more with coastal habitat. Arctic Foxes have a circumpolar range, meaning that they are found throughout the entire Arctic, including Russia, Canada, Nunavut, Alaska, Greenland and Svalbard, as well as in sub-Arctic and alpine areas, such as Iceland and mainland alpine Scandinavia. The conservation status of the species is good, except for the Scandinavian mainland population. It is acutely endangered, despite decades of legal protection from hunting and persecution. The total population estimate in Norway, Sweden and Finland is a mere 120 adult individuals. The abundance of Arctic Foxes tends to fluctuate in a cycle along with the population of lemmings. Because the foxes reproduce very quickly and often die young, population levels are not seriously impacted by trapping. They have, nonetheless, been eradicated from many areas where humans are settled. The Arctic Fox is losing ground to the larger Red Fox. Historically, the Gray Wolf has kept the number of Red Foxes down, but as wolves have been hunted to near extinction, the Red Fox population has grown larger, taking over the niche of top predator. In areas of northern Europe there are programs to hunt Red Foxes in the Arctic Fox's previous range.
The Crab-eating fox (Cerdocyon thous), is more commonly known as the forest fox and is medium-sized and found in the central part of South America. This fox is currently the only member of genus Cerdocyon, but an extinct species is known from the Pleistocene: Cerdocyon avius. This creature was probably similar to the crab-eating fox. Crab Eating Foxes are predominantly greyish-brown with areas of red on their legs and faces, and black-tipped ears and tail. It has short, strong legs and its tail is long and bushy. They may reach an adult weight of 10 to 17 pounds. The Crab Eating Fox ranges in Savanna, Banos, and woodland. The Crab Eating Fox eats rodents, frogs, reptiles, birds, turtle eggs, carrion, vegatables, fruit and, as its name suggests, crabs. This fox is active at twilight or at night.
Falkland Island Fox
The Falkland Island Fox (Dusicyon australis, formerly named Canis antarcticus), also known as the Warrah and occasionally as the Falkland Island Wolf or Antarctic Wolf and by Argentine writers as the Malvinas Zorro, was the only native land mammal of the Falkland Islands. This endemic canid became extinct in 1876, the only known canid to have gone extinct in historical times. The most closely related species to the monotypic genus Dusicyon among southern-hemisphere foxes is Pseudalopex griseus, the culpeo or Patagonian fox. The fur of the Falkland Island Fox had a tawny color. The tip of the tail was white. The diet is unknown. Due to the absence of native rodents it probably consisted of ground-nesting birds such as geese and penguins, grubs and insects, as well as seashore scavenging (Allen 1942). When Charles Darwin visited the islands in 1833 he named the species Canis antarcticus and described it as common and tame. The settlers regarded the fox as a threat to their sheep and organized poisoning and shooting on a massive scale. The absence of forests led to a speedy success of the extermination campaign. This was facilitated by the animal's tameness, as is common in insular species due to the absence of predators - trappers would lure the animal with a chunk of meat held in one hand, and kill it with a knife or stick held in the other. It has been speculated that the unusual distribution of this animal (the only canine native to an oceanic island) and some details of the skull suggest that it originally arrived with natives visiting the islands and was kept by them as a pet in a semi-domesticated state. If that is true, the progenitor form from mainland South America would have become extinct during the last Ice Age. DNA analysis of museum specimens have proved rather inconclusive as to the exact relationship of this animal, some even suggesting hybridization (during the domestication process) with a relative or progenitor of the coyote; it is not known whether this would have been biologically possible. At any rate, the Falkland Island Fox is a biogeographical mystery.
The Fennec is a small fox found in the Sahara Desert of North Africa (excluding the coast) which has distinctive oversized ears. Although some authorities classify this as the only species of the genus Fennecus, it is shown here in the genus Vulpes. The Fennec is the smallest canid, only weighing up to 1.5 kg. The fox is 20 cm tall at the shoulder, with a body length of up to 40 cm. The tail is an additional 25 cm or so, and the ears can be 15 cm long. The animals are often a sandy color to blend in with their desert surroundings. Its ears, which are the largest in the canid family, serve to help dissipate heat. The coat can repel sunlight during the day and conserve heat at night. The soles of the feet are protected from the hot sand by thick fur. The Fennec is nocturnal. During the night, it will hunt for rodents, insects (such as locusts), lizards, and birds and eggs. It also eats a small lizard known as a sandfish. The Fennec gets most of its water from food, but will sometimes eat berries and leaves as an additional source of water. Fennecs live in large dens (extending up to 10 meters), often with several foxes. In the spring, after about 50 days of gestation, a female fennec will give birth to a litter of 2-5 young. The young will rely on their mother's milk for about a month. The fennec is rare and is not often seen. It is often hunted by humans, even though the fox does not cause any harm to human interests.
The Hoary Fox, Pseudalopex vetulus, is a species of fox endemic to Brazil. It is a slender animal with a relatively short, pointed muzzle, and large ears. It inhabits, mainly, the Brazilian Cerrado ecosystem, although it can also be found in transitional habitats. It is an omnivorous animal but feeds, mainly, on termites, dung beetles and other insects and small vertebrates. The Hoary Fox has short muzzle, small teeth, short coat, and dark stripes on the dorsal suface.. Their tail is black on the tip and marked dark strupe along the dorsal line. Their ears and outsides part of their legs are reddish or tawny. The upper part of their bodies are grey, and their underside of the body is cream or fawn. The Hoary Fox weight between 2.7 and 4 Kg, tail length is 28-32 cm. and from head to body length between 58 and 64 cm. They are active during the day. The Hoary Fox mainly eat insects. They eat rodents, termites, and grasshoppers. The Hoary Fox lives in some area in South America. They usually lives in the area where there are open woodland, bushlands, upland mountain and savannahs that are smooth or scattered with trees. The females of Hoary Fox usually give birth to 2-4 pups. They mostly breed in the season of fall.
The Bat-eared Fox is a canid of the African savanna. It is named after its huge ears. Bat-eared Foxes have tawny fur, their ears, legs and parts of the face are black. They are 55 cm in length (head and body), their ears are 13 cm long. It is the only species in the genus Otocyon. The teeth of the Bat-eared Fox are much smaller than teeth of other canid species. This is an adaptation to their insectivorous diet. 80% of the diet consist of insects. Bat-eared Foxes visit termite hills, follow locust swarms or stay close to herds of zebras or antelopes in order to feed on the insects landing on their excrements. In addition to insects Bat-eared Foxes eat rodents, birds and eggs, and sometimes fruits. Bat-eared Foxes are nocturnal animals, that live in small groups consisting of a couple and their young. The pairs live in dens and raise the pups (two to five) together. Due to their unusual teeth, Bat-eared Foxes were once considered as a distinct subfamily of canids (Otocyoninae). However, according to more recent examinations they are closely related to the true foxes of the genus Vulpes. Other research places the genus as an outgroup which is not very closely related to foxes. The Bat-eared Fox is an old species, that was widely distributed in the Pleistocene era. In that time it even lived in parts of West and South Asia.
The Culpeo, sometimes known as the Patagonian fox, is a South American species of wild dog. It is the second largest South American canid after the Maned Wolf. In its appearance it bears many similarities to the widely recognized red fox. It has grey and reddish fur, a white chin, reddish legs, and a stripe on its back which may be barely visible. Its distribution extends from Ecuador and Peru to the southern regions of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. It is most common on the western slopes of the Andes, where it inhabits open country and deciduous forests. A community of culpeos is also found in some of the western isles of the Falkland Islands, where they were introduced by humans. Its diet consists of rodents, rabbits, birds, lizards, and, to a lesser extent, plants or carrion. Allegedly the culpeo attacks sheep and therefore it is often hunted or poisoned. In some regions it has become rare, but the species is not threatened with extinction. The Falkland Island Fox, now extinct, was probably closely related.
The Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) is a species of fox ranging from southern Canada, throughout most of the lower United States and Central America, to Venezuela. This species and the closely related Island Fox are the only living members of the genus Urocyon, which is considered to be among the most primitive of the living canids. The gray fox has a gray back, tawny sides, neck and legs, a white belly, and a black stripe along its back and tail. Another black stripe crosses its face from the nose to the eye and continuing to the side of the head. Standing about 12-16 inches at the shoulders, weighing up to 16 pounds and having an overall body length of up to 47 inches, the gray fox is an agile canid able to scurry up and down trees with relative ease. The pelage is coarse when compared to other foxes, with the face, upper part of the head, flanks, back and most of the tail gray. The throat and undersides are whitish, and the ventral surface of the tail tends toward a rusty brown. The individual hairs along the middle of the back and top of the tail are heavily tipped with black, giving the appearance of a dark mane. The back and tail bear black-tipped bristles which stand erect during body posturing displays. Gray foxes are forest dwellers, and are the only canids able to climb trees. They prefer deciduous woodlands or partially open brush land with little human activity. While diet varies depending upon time of year, they prey mainly upon cottontail rabbits, though small rodents, birds and insects are staples as well; these foxes also forage for fruits and berries, and tend to eat more vegetable material than does the red fox.
The Island Fox (Urocyon littoralis) is a small fox that is native to six of the eight Channel Islands of California. It is the smallest fox species in the United States. There are six subspecies of the fox, each unique to the island it inhabits, reflecting its evolutionary history. Other names for the Island Fox include Coast Fox, Short-Tailed Fox, Island Gray Fox, Channel Islands Fox, Channel Islands Gray Fox, California Channel Island Fox and Insular Gray Fox. The Island Fox shares the Urocyon genus with the mainland Gray Fox, the fox from which it is descended. Its small size is a result of island dwarfing, a kind of allopatric speciation. Because Island Foxes are geographically isolated they have no immunity to parasites and diseases brought in from the mainland and are especially vulnerable to those domestic dogs may carry. In addition, Golden Eagle predation and human activities devastated fox numbers on several of the Channel Islands in the 1990s. Four Island Fox subspecies were federally protected as an endangered species in 2004, and efforts to rebuild fox populations and restore the ecosystems of the Channel Islands are being undertaken.
The Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), the most familiar of the foxes, has the widest range of any terrestrial carnivore. Red Foxes have both positive and negative standing with humans, often being loved or hated with a passion. This has been most visible in the United Kingdom where fox hunting with dogs was a traditional sport, until this was made illegal on February 18, 2005 . Like other wild animals, foxes are considered vectors of disease. Red Foxes help farmers by preying on animals that damage crops but are considered to be a pest by farmers involved in poultry farming. Red foxes are of some importance in the fur industry. Greater visibility in nature documentaries and sympathetic portrayals in fiction have improved the Red Fox's reputation and appeal in recent years. A prominent cultural impact is that on fox hunting which became illegal in Scotland in August 2002 and in England and Wales in February 2005. According to the Australian Government, red foxes were introduced to Australia for hunting in 1855, but have since become wide-spread, and are considered responsible for the decline in a number of species of native animals. In a program known as Western Shield, Western Australia state government authorities conduct aerial and hand baiting on almost 3.5 million hectares (8.75 million acres) to control foxes and feral cats. The West Australian conservation department, CALM, estimates introduced predators are responsible for the extinction of 10 native species in that state, while Western Shield targets the conservation of 16 others. Red foxes are most commonly a rusty red, with white underbelly, black ear tips and legs, and a bushy tail with a distinctive white tip. The "red" tone can vary from crimson to golden, and in fact can be brindled or agouti, with bands of red, brown, black and white on each individual hair when seen close up. In the wild, two other color phases are also seen. The first is silver or black, silver foxes, comprising 10% of the wild population and most of the farmed. Approximately 30% of wild individuals have additional black patterning, which usually manifests as a stripe across the shoulders and down the center of the back. This pattern forms a "cross" over the shoulders, hence the term "cross fox". "Domesticated" or farmed stock may be almost any color, including spotted, or "marbled", varieties. Their eyes are gold to yellow and have distinctive vertically slit pupils, similar to those of a feline. They can see just as well too, and combined with their extreme agility for a canid the red fox has been referred to as "the cat-like canid". Their long bushy tails with distinctive white tips provide balance for acrobatic leaps and bounds. Their strong legs allow them to reach speeds of 45 miles per hour. That amazing speed makes it easy for them to catch their prey or to outrun their predators. Red foxes may reach an adult weight of 2.7–6.8 kilograms (6–15 pounds), but this may change from region to region. They vary greatly in size, with red foxes in Europe being larger, on average, than those in North America. During the fall and winter, red foxes will grow more fur. This so-called 'winter fur' keeps the animal warm in the colder environment. The foxes shed this fur at the onset of spring, reverting back to the short fur for the duration of the summer. Red Foxes are found in a variety of biomes, from prairies and scrubland to forest settings. They are most suited to lower latitudes but do venture considerably far north, competing directly with the Arctic Fox on the tundra. Red Foxes have also become a familiar sight in suburban and even urban environments, sharing territory with the much maligned raccoon. Red Foxes eat rodents, insects, fruits, worms, eggs, mice, birds, and other small animals. They have 42 very powerful teeth that they use to catch their food. The foxes regularly consume from 0.5–1 kilograms (1–2 pounds) of food per day.
In recent decades, many foxes have established themselves in urban neighborhoods in Britain. These urban foxes probably depend mainly on scavenging household waste, though they will also take rodents and birds from gardens and wasteland. Since they are so adaptable they have a strong population that is above 20 million. Living as they do in a wide variety of habitats, red foxes display a wide variety of behaviors. In Biology and Conservation of Wild Canids, MacDonald and Sillero-Zubiri state that two populations of red foxes may be behaviorally as different as two species. Being primarily crepuscular with a tendency to becoming nocturnal in areas of great human interference (and artificial lighting), red foxes are most active at night and at twilight. They are generally solitary hunters. If a fox catches more food than it can eat, it will bury the extra food to store it for later. In general, each fox claims its own territory; foxes pair up only in winter and in summer they forage alone. Territories may be as large as 50 square kilometers (19 square miles); ranges are much smaller (<12 square kilometers (4.6 square miles)) in habitats with abundant food sources, however. Several dens are utilized within these territories; dens may be claimed from previous residents such as marmots, or dug anew. A larger main den is used for winter living, birthing and rearing of young; smaller dens are dispersed throughout the territory for emergency and food storage purposes. A series of tunnels often connects them with the main den. Red foxes primarily form monogamous pairs each winter, which cooperate to raise a litter of 4-6 kits (also called pups) each year; but in various locales and for various incompletely-explored reasons they may also practice polygamy (multiple males sharing a single female and/or vice versa). Sometimes young foxes disperse promptly on maturity (approx. 8-10 months); sometimes they remain on their natal territory and assist in raising the next year's offspring.
The reason for this "group living" behavior is not agreed upon; some researchers believe the non-breeders boost the survival rate of the litters while others believe there is no significant difference, and such arrangements are made spontaneously due to a resource surplus. Socially, foxes communicate with body language and a variety of vocalizations. Their vocal range is quite large and their noises vary from a distinctive three-yip "lost call" to a shriek reminiscent of a human scream. They also communicate with scent, marking food and territorial boundary lines with urine and feces. The Red Fox's 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 1–6 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 one only. Males will supply food to females up to and after birthing, otherwise leaving the female alone with her kits (also called cubs or pups) in a "maternity den". An average litter size is 5 kits, but may be as large as 13. Kits are born blind and may weigh as much as 150 grams (0.33 pounds). Their eyes are open by two weeks and the kits have taken their first exploratory steps out of the den by five weeks; by 10 weeks they are fully weaned. In autumn of the same year, the young foxes will disperse and claim their own territories. Red Foxes reach sexual maturity by 10 months of age, and may live for 12 years in captivity but usually live 3 years in the wild.
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