The Fascinating Fox
Beautiful, intelligent and elusive, the fox is an opertunistic member of the canine family with several catlike traits, such as hunting methods, soft paws, sensitive whiskers, keen hearing, and vertical slit pupils. There are at least twelve known species of foxes ranging throughout the world with the widest range belonging to the red fox due to its adaptability and willingness to use human changes to the environment to its own advantage. The fox is a devoted parent and both the dog fox and the vixen work hard together to provide their kits with food and teach them the hunting skills they will need to survive.
The fox appears in the folklore of many different cultures, sometimes good, sometimes evil, but always very clever. This is most likely a reflection of the varying views humans have of foxes: animals to be admired for their beauty and intelligence, prey to be hunted for sport, creatures to be trapped for their fur, or vermin to be feared for their threat to livestock and as well known carriers of rabies.
- Grambo, Rebecca L.. 1995. The World of the Fox. Singapore: Sierra Club Books paperback edition: 1997. ISBN 0-87156-958-2
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage
Specimens with Sequences:33
Specimens with Barcodes:28
Species With Barcodes:6
Vulpes is a genus of the Canidae. The members of this genus are colloquially referred to as true foxes, meaning they form a proper clade. The word ‘fox’ occurs on the common names of species. True foxes are distinguished from members of the genus Canis such as dogs, wolves, coyotes, and jackals by their smaller size (5-11 kg) and flatter skulls. They have black, triangular markings between their eyes and nose, and the tips of their tails are often a different color from the rest of their pelts. The typical life span for this genus is between 2–4 years, but can reach up to a decade.
- 1 Extant Species
- 2 Fossil species
- 3 Early History
- 4 Distribution
- 5 Anatomy
- 6 Diet
- 7 Habitat
- 8 Behavior
- 9 Domestication
- 10 Fox hunting
- 11 Vulpes in culture and literature
- 12 References
Within Vulpes there are twelve separate and distinct extant species and four fossil species.
- Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus)
- Bengal fox (Vulpes bengalensis)
- Blanford's fox (Vulpes cana)
- Cape fox (Vulpes chama)
- Corsac fox (Vulpes corsac)
- Fennec fox (Vulpes zerda)
- Kit fox (Vulpes macrotis)
- Pale fox (Vulpes pallida)
- Rüppell's fox (Vulpes rueppellii)
- Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) (includes silver fox)
- Swift fox (Vulpes velox)
- Tibetan sand fox (Vulpes ferrilata)
Foxes of this group (including the fennec and Arctic foxes) possess eyes with pupils that retract into vertical slits in bright light.
The red fox, Ruppell's fox  and Tibetan sand fox  possess white-tipped tails. The arctic fox's tail-tip is of the same color as the rest of the tail (white or blue-gray) The Blanford's fox usually possesses a black-tipped tail, but a small number of specimens (2% in Israel, 24% in the United Arab Emirates) possess a light-tipped tail. The other foxes in this group (Bengal, Cape, Corsac, Fennec, Kit, Pale, and Swift) all possess black-tipped or dark-tipped tails.
- †Vulpes riffautae - Late Miocene
- †Vulpes praeglacialis - Kormos (found in Petralona cave, Greece)
- †Vulpes hassani
- †Vulpes skinneri
- †Vulpes stenognathus
- †Vulpes qiuzhudingi (2014)
|Wikispecies has information related to: Vulpes|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Vulpes.|
The oldest known fossil species within Vulpes is Vulpes riffautae, which dates back to the late Miocene (which is within the Neogene) of Chad. The deposits these fossils are found within are approximately 7 million years old, which might make them the earliest Canidae in the Old World. They are estimated to have weighed between 1.5-3.5 lbs. Vulpes skinneri, from the Malapa Fossil Site from South Africa is younger than Vulpes riffautae by approximately 5 million years, and shows up in the early Pleistocene.
There are two other extinct, less documented, fossils: Vulpes praeglacialis and Vulpes hassani. Vulpes praeglacialis was discovered in the Petralona Cave in Chalkidiki, Greece. The age of the deposits (Early Pleistocene) makes Vulpes praeglacialis the earliest occurrence of Vulpes in Europe. Vulpes hassani is found in a Miocene-Pliocene deposit in Northwestern Africa.
In the Pleistocene, Vulpes had a fairly wide distribution, with eight species found in North America. Of these eight, six are non fossil, and three species still remain in North America (Vulpes velox, Vulpes macrotis and Vulpes Chama). The remaining three moved on to sections of Africa over time. Vulpes stenognathus is extinct, but has extant sister taxa including Vulpes chama, Vulpes rueppellii, Vulpes velox, Vulpes vulpes which fits with these species all evolving together in North America.
Arctic foxes inhabit all of the Arctic (Greenland, Russia, Canada, Alaska, Svalbard), also Iceland and parts of Scandinavia and hold the title of being the only native land mammal in all of Iceland. This fox arrived in Iceland during the climax of the last ice age, when the seas were frozen solid enough to walk across. There are two extant subpopulations of this species alive today. The arctic fox is most closely related to kit (Vulpes macrotis) and corsac foxes(Vulpes corsac).
Bengal foxes are endemic to India and live throughout the subcontinent, and have not been placed on the endangered species list, but have become threatened by lack of native habitat due to human expansion.
Corsac foxes live in Central Asia. Like Vulpes chama and Vulpes cana, they do best in semi-arid deserts. This fox is within the holarctic clade of foxes. This clade also contains the arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus), swift fox (Vulpes velox), and red fox (Vulpes vulpes). Their possible ancestor is Vulpes praecorsac, meaning that they may have had a much wider distribution in the past (Europe and Crimea).
The fennec fox lives in the northernmost sections of Africa. It was not previously within Vulpes, but genetic evidence shows its close relation with Blanford’s fox (Vulpes cana), making it a true fox.
The pale fox lives in upper middle Africa and is an arid dwelling species.
These foxes are specific to Northern Africa and well as sections of the Middle East.
The red fox is the mostly abundant and most widely distributed species of Vulpes. They currently live in most sections of the Northern Hemisphere. They also are present in Australia, though were brought there by humans for fox hunting in the 1830s and are considered an invasive species. This species’ ancestor (either Vulpes alopecoides or the related Chinese V. chikushanensi) originated in the Early Pleistocene and are most closely related to the Ruppell’s fox (Vulpes rueppellii).
The swift fox is found in the western grasslands of North America, specifically Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas as well as some sections of Canada. This species is most closely related to the kit fox (Vulpes macrotis), but lives in a different section of North America. The two can interbreed.
Vulpes has a very similar bone structure to its canid relatives but does have some modifications. Although canid limbs are designed specifically for running quickly on land to catch prey, Vulpes avoid rapid sprints excluding being chased and have become more specialized for leaping and grasping prey. In grey foxes, this adaption is used for climbing.
The adaptions for leaping, grasping and climbing include the lengthening of hind limbs in relation to forelimbs as well as overall slenderizing of both hind and fore limbs. Muscles are also emphasized along the axis of limbs. Specific to climbing, gray foxes develop a wider range of motion for the radius and the ability to move their hind limbs away from the midline of their bodies.
This genus is omnivorous and prone to scavenging. The foods of choice for Vulpes consist of invertebrates, a variety of small vertebrates, grasses, and some angiosperms. The typical intake per day is approximately 1 kg. True foxes exhibit hoarding behavior or caching where they store away food for another day out of site from other animals.
Vulpes can dwell in a number of habitats including alpine, forest, desert, coastal, farm, and urban but thrive in environments rich in food and shelter. They can be found in great numbers in suburban/residential regions. For the most part, this coexistence is agreeable for both fox and man, but can sometimes result in house pet (cat) disappearances.
Though this varies in intensity from species to species, foxes operate within a hierarchical society, where dominance is established early in life. Dominant kits will receive more food and are subsequently larger. If there is a dispute in the hierarchy, dominance is determined by fighting. The loser may be subjected to rejection from their social group, as well as serious injuries. These social groups consist of three to four adults and have not been documented surpassing ten adult individuals. Vulpes are usually nocturnal, but do occasionally hunt and scavenge in daylight during winter months.
A male is referred to as a dog fox, and the female as a vixen. They are very similar in appearance, though dogs have larger heads. Mating occurs in late winter. This mating process starts when the vixen digs out an undisclosed number of potential breeding dens and begins to release a mating scent. Gestation takes 7–8 weeks, putting typically birth occurrence in March, and on average, kits begin to emerge in late April. The parents will work as a unit in the upbringing of their offspring, but do not mate for life.
Born deaf and blind, kits or cubs require their mother’s milk and complete supervision for the first four to five weeks out of the womb but begin to be progressively weaned off after the first month. Once fully weaned, kits will seek out various insects. The parents will supplement this diet with a variety of mammals and birds. During early to middle July the kits are able to hunt on their own and will soon move away from their parents.
Though rare, domestication has been documented. The most notable case documented is the domestication of the silver fox in Novosibirsk, Russia at the Siberian Institute of Cytology and Genetics. In this study, generations of silver foxes were divided into those with friendly traits and those with unfriendly traits. After fifty years, the friendly foxes developed “dog-like” domesticated traits such as spots, tail wagging, enjoyment of human touch and barking.
Fox hunting was started in the United Kingdom in the 16th century that involves tracking, chasing, and killing a fox with the aid of foxhounds and horses. It has since then spread around the western hemisphere (Europe, the United States and Australia).
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- Sillero-Zubiri, Claudio; Hoffman, Michael; and MacDonald David W. Canids: Foxes, Wolves, Jackals, and Dogs: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK: IUCN; 2004. p161
- Burt, William Henry. A Field Guide to the Mammals of North America North of Mexico. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1998. pp75 and Plate 7
- Sillero-Zubiri, Claudio; Hoffman, Michael; and MacDonald David W. Canids: Foxes, Wolves, Jackals, and Dogs: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK: IUCN; 2004. p206
- Sillero-Zubiri, Claudio; Hoffman, Michael; and MacDonald David W. Canids: Foxes, Wolves, Jackals, and Dogs: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK: IUCN; 2004.pp202,231,205,211,155,122,117
- Likius, S., MacKaye, A., Vignaud, H., Brunet, P. (2007). "The oldest African fox (Vulpes riffautae n. sp., Canidae, Carnivora) recovered in late Miocene deposits of the Djurab desert, Chad". Naturwissenschaften 94 (7): 575–580. doi:10.1007/s00114-007-0230-6. PMID 17361401. Retrieved 2008-05-06.
- De Bonis et al. (2007) "The oldest African fox (Vulpes riffautae n. sp., Canidae, Carnivora) recovered in late Miocene deposits of the Djurab desert, Chad". Naturwissenschaften 94 (7): 575-580.
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- “Vulpes pallida” http://www.canids.org/species/Vulpes_pallida.htm. Canid Specialist Group
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- Kurtén 1980, pp. 96, 174
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