Comprehensive Description

Members of the family Canidae (dog family) exhibit great flexibility in diet and behavior and complex social organization, with much variation both within and between species. Canids are among the most widely distributed carnivores, with at least one species present on every continent except Antarctica, and one or more canid species can be found from sea level to 5000 meters.

Sillero-Zubiri (2009) recognized 35 extant canid species (37 if the Dingo is treated as a distinct species, Canis dingo, rather than a subspecies of the Gray Wolf, Canis lupus dingo, and if the Eastern North American Wolf is treated as a distinct species, Canis lycaon). South America has 11 species, including nine (mainly Pseudalopex [sometimes known as Lycalopex] foxes) endemic to the continent. Africa has 13 species, including eight endemics. Asia has twelve species, including three endemics. Two species, the Golden Jackal (Canis aureus) and Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus) are native to three continents (Africa/Europe/Asia and North America/Asia/Europe, respectively).

A few canids have extremely small ranges, the most extreme example being Darwin's Fox (Pseudalopex fulvipes): most of the world population of just a few hundred individuals is found on a single island off Chile, although a small number persist on the mainland. Ethiopian Wolves (Canis simensis) occur only in a few isolated pockets of Afro-alpine grasslands and heathlands above the treeline from around 3200 meters to 4500 meters, where they are found mainly in open areas with short vegetation and feed almost exclusively on Afro-alpine rodents such as Ethiopian African Mole Rats (Tachyoryctes macrocephalus) and Arvicanthis and Otomys murine grass rats, which can be very abundant. At the other extreme, the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) has the largest natural range of any carnivore (Larivière and Pasitschniak-Arts 1996), encompassing nearly 70 million km2 and extending across the entire northern hemisphere from the Arctic Circle through Canada and the United States and most of Europe and Asia to North Africa; in addition, Red Foxes were introduced to Australia in the 1800s and their range in the United States was extended through several introductions of European Red Foxes starting in the mid-1700s. The Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) has (or had) a similar distribution, occuring widely in North America, Asia, and Europe. Some canid distributions have changed substantially in historical times. For example, the Coyote (Canis latrans) used to be found mainly in arid parts of the western United States, but is now found in every state, province, and country north of Panama, an expansion that was clearly aided by the extirpation of Gray Wolves from most of  the United States in the early 1900s. The Red Fox and Dingo are found in Australia and Oceania, but were brought there by humans. Red Foxes are known to coexist in one region or another with 14 other canid species, Golden Jackals with 13 other canids, and Gray Wolves with 11 other canids.

Although canids generally stick to the ground, Northern Gray Foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) are very capable tree climbers and Blanford's Foxes (Vulpes cana) and Arctic Foxes regularly climb cliffs.  Some canids have adaptations allowing them to live in extreme environments, e.g., the Arctic (Arctic Foxes) and deserts (several desert foxes). The Fennec (Vulpes zerda), Rüppel's (Vulpes rueppellii), and Pale Foxes (Vulpes pallida) are found in the Sahara and Sahel and Blanford's Fox occurs in the deserts and mountains of western Asia. Sechuran Foxes (Pseudalopex sechurae) live in the coastal desert of Peru and Ecuador. All these desert foxes are nocturnal and spend much of the hot day in burrows. The Fennec Fox is the smallest canid and the only Saharan carnivore that does not need to drink water. It is so specialized to tolerate high ambient temperatures that it begins to shiver when the temperature drops below 20 C; it begins to pant only above 35 C and dramatically increases its breaths per minute to help lower its body temperature. The Fennec Fox also has proportionately enormous ears (accounting for 20% of its body surface!) that facilitate thermoregulation and are perhaps the most obvious of a whole suite of anatomical, physiological, and behavioral adaptations to extremely hot and dry environments. More than 20 species of canids are clearly associated with open habitats including temperate grasslands, shrublands, and montane habitats. Only four South American species—Bush Dog (Speothos venaticus), Short-eared Dog (Atelocynus microtis), Hoary Fox (Pseudalopex vetulus), and Crab-eating Fox (Cerdocyon thous)—are essentially restricted to tropical forest (the first three of these are among the most poorly known of all canids). 

Although many canids are highly carnivorous, they are mostly rather opportunistic (especially the foxes) and the typical diets of some species, especially those with smaller body sizes, may include less than 5% protein. Among the larger canids are several species that live in groups and prey on animals that may exceed their own body size: Gray Wolves across much of the Northern Hemisphere, Dholes (Cuon alpinus) in southern Asia, and African Wild Dogs (Lycaon pictus) in Africa. The Maned Wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus), which lives in South American savannas, is unusual for a large canid in that it feeds mostly on rodents and fruit. The Bat-eared Fox (Otocyon megalotis) of eastern and southern Africa and the Hoary Fox of Brazil are the only canids that feed largely on insects rather than mammals, feeding especially on Syntermes and Cornitermes harvester termites that emerge from undergound colonies to forage on grasses, as well as on other insects such as adult and larval dung beetles (particularly during the rainy season when termites are less active).

The dog is believed to be the first domesticated animal, apparently derived from Gray Wolves at least 10,000-15,000 years ago—possibly far longer ago than this and pre-dating the emergence of agriculture. The Domestic Dog is now generally treated as a subspecies of Gray Wolf, Canis lupus familiaris.  Dingo-like feral dogs were apparently associated with hunter-gatherer societies of Africa, Asia, and Europe and later with sedentary agricultural societies. Dingoes were brough from mainland Asia to Australia and various Pacific islands as many as 10,000 years ago, perhaps for food, as guard animals, or for warmth and companionship. The Dingoes of Southeast Asia are often known as Pariah Dogs. On various islands, in particular, introduced Dingos, Red Foxes, and Arctic Foxes have decimated populations of some native birds and mammals.

A number of canid species face serious threats to their populations. Gray Wolves, African Wild Dogs, Coyotes, and Dingoes have often been actively persecuted by humans as a result of their predation of livestock (and, to a lesser degree, because of the perception that they pose a direct danger to humans). Some smaller canids—notably the Arctic Fox and some South American foxes—have historically been hunted extensively for the fur trade, although this pressure has declined with the decline of the fur trade. Some species that have been subjected to intense hunting pressure—such as Dingoes, Coyotes, Culpeos (Pseudalopex culpaeus), and Red Foxes—have nevertheless thrived. Today, many canid species seem to be maintaining stable populations and some have even expanded. Coyotes, for example, are now more common and widespread than ever and Golden Jackals have expanded into Western Europe. Gray Wolves are slowly recovering in some portions of their once far greater range. However, nearly a dozen canid species are considered threatened or endangered, some largely because they are naturally rare, with limited geographic distributions, but mostly because of human activities that have led to  habitat loss, persecution, and disease, although they have so far been spared the fate of the Falkland Islands Wolf (Dusicyon australis), which was eradicated by humans in the 19th century. Among the most vulnerable species are the narrowly distributed Darwin's Fox in southern Chile, the Island Fox (Urocyon littoralis) on the Channel Islands off southern California (U.S.A.), and the Red Wolf (Canis rufus) of the southeastern U.S.A. (the taxonomic status of the Red Wolf remains controversial). The Red Wolf was extinct in the wild by 1980; introduction efforts have been fairly successful, but many individuals are killed by cars each year and genetic dilution by hybridization with Coyotes poses a serious threat to the persistence of the species. Other endangered or threatened canids include the African Wild Dog (formerly found across much of sub-Saharan Africa, excluding rainforests, but now occurring only in small scattered populations), the Dhole, and the Ethiopian Wolf, among others. Some species are very poorly known so their status is difficult to assess. Sillero-Zubiri (2009) suggests that the failure of attempts to locate and survey populations of some of these species (notably, Bush Dog and Short-eared Dog and Saharan Pale, Ruppell's, and Fennec Foxes) do not bode well for the status of these species.

Human impacts on canid populations may be direct (e.g., hunting of Indian Foxes, Vulpes bengalensis) or indirect (e.g., the local extinction in the Negev Desert in Israel of Rüppell's Fox, which was abundant into the 1960s, possibly as a result of Red Fox populations increasing in association with increased agriculture). Although around half the species of canids are known to have had some use in traditional medicine, demand for body parts or organs for traditional medicine does not appear to pose a major conservation concern (as it does for many other types of animals) since harvesting for medicinal uses is not believed to currently pose a significant threat to any endangered canid (Alves et al. 2010). Rabies, canine distemper, anthrax, and other pathogens have all taken a severe toll on various canid populations (notably Island Foxes, Ethiopian Wolves, and African Wild Dogs) and in some cases these may have been transmitted from domestic dogs. Management efforts for the long-term conservation of several canids, such as the African Wild Dog and Ethiopian Wolf, have shown evidence of some success, but the remaining challenges are great.

(Sillero-Zubiri 2009 and references therein)

  • Alves, R.R.N., R.R.D. Barboza, and W.M.S. Souto. 2010. A Global overview of canids used in traditional medicines. Biodiversity and Conservation 19: 1513-1522.
  • Larivière, S. and M. Pasitschniak-Arts.1996. Vulpes vulpes. Mammalian Species 537: 1-11.
  • Sillero-Zubiri, C. 2009. Family Canidae (Dogs). Pp. 352-446 in: Wilson, D.E. & Mittermeier, R.A., eds. Handbook of the Mammals of the World. Volume 1. Carnivores. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
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Known prey organisms

Canidae preys on:
Recurvirostra americana
Ictinia mississippiensis
Neopsephotus bourkii
Sylvilagus brasiliensis

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
Specimen Records:810Public Records:560
Specimens with Sequences:671Public Species:20
Specimens with Barcodes:527Public BINs:8
Species With Barcodes:17         
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Barcode data

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Locations of barcode samples

Collection Sites: world map showing specimen collection locations for Canidae

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Fox is a common name for many species of alert omnivorous mammals belonging to the Canidae family. Foxes are small-to-medium-size canids (slightly smaller than a medium-size domestic dog), with a flattened skull, upright triangular ears, a pointed, slightly upturned snout, and a long bushy tail (or brush).

Members of about 37 species are referred to as foxes, of which only 12 species actually belong to the Vulpes genus of "true foxes". By far the most common and widespread species of fox is the red fox (Vulpes vulpes), although various species are found on almost every continent. The presence of fox-like carnivores all over the globe, together with their widespread reputation for cunning, has contributed to their appearance in popular culture and folklore in many societies around the world (see also Foxes in culture). The hunting of foxes with packs of hounds, long an established pursuit in Europe, especially the British Isles, was exported by European settlers to various parts of the New World.


The word fox was inherited from Old English, itself from Proto-Germanic *fuhsaz; compare West Frisian foks, Dutch vos, and German Fuchs. This in turn derives from Proto-Indo-European *puḱ- ‘thick-haired; tail’, which also gave Hindi pū̃ch ‘tail’, Tocharian B päkā ‘tail; chowrie’, and Lithuanian paustìs ‘fur’. The bushy tail also forms the basis for the fox's Welsh name, llwynog, literally ‘bushy’, from llwyn ‘bush’.[2] Likewise, Portuguese: raposa from rabo ‘tail’,[3] Lithuanian uodẽgis from uodegà ‘tail’, and Ojibwa waagosh from waa, which refers to the up and down "bounce" or flickering of an animal or its tail.[4] Male foxes are known as dogs, tods or reynards, females as vixens, and young as cubs, pups, or kits. A group of foxes is referred to as a skulk, leash, troop, or earth.

General characteristics[edit]

Drawing of a fox skeleton.

In the wild, foxes can live for up to 10 years, but most foxes only live for 2 to 3 years due to hunting, road accidents and diseases. Foxes are generally smaller than other members of the family Canidae such as wolves, jackals, and domestic dogs. Male foxes are called reynards, and weigh, on average, around 5.9 kilograms (13 lb) while female foxes, called vixens, weigh less, at around 5.2 kilograms (11.5 lb).[5] Fox-like features typically include a distinctive muzzle (a "fox face") and bushy tail. Other physical characteristics vary according to habitat. For example, the fennec fox (and other species of fox adapted to life in the desert, such as the kit fox) has large ears and short fur, whereas the Arctic fox has tiny ears and thick, insulating fur. Another example is the red fox, which has a typical auburn pelt, the tail normally ending with white marking. Litter sizes can vary greatly according to species and environment – the Arctic fox, for example, has an average litter of four to five, with eleven as maximum.[6]

Unlike many canids, foxes are not always pack animals. Typically, they live in small family groups, and are 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. The gray fox is one of only two canine species known to climb trees; the other is the raccoon dog.

Foxes are normally extremely wary of humans and are not usually kept as indoor pets; however, the silver fox was successfully domesticated in Russia after a 45-year selective breeding program. This selective breeding also resulted in physical and behavioral traits appearing that are frequently seen in domestic cats, dogs, and other animals, such as pigmentation changes, floppy ears, and curly tails.[7]


Canids commonly known as foxes include members of the following genera:


Foxes are omnivores.[8][9] The diet of foxes is largely made up of invertebrates and small mammals, reptiles (such as snakes), amphibians, scorpions, grasses, berries, fruit, fish, birds, eggs, dung beetles, insects and all other kinds of small animals. Many species are generalist predators, but some (such as the crab-eating fox) are more specialist. Most species of fox generally consume around 1 kg of food every day. Foxes cache excess food, burying it for later consumption, usually under leaves, snow, or soil.


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, which lacks similar carnivores other than the dingo, and the introduced foxes prey on native wildlife, some to the point of extinction.

Other fox species do not reproduce as readily as the red fox, and are endangered in their native environments. Key among these are the crab-eating fox (Cerdocyon thous) and the African bat-eared fox (Otocyon megalotis). Other foxes such as fennec foxes are not endangered.

Foxes have been successfully employed to control pests on fruit farms while leaving the fruit intact.[10]

Relationships with humans[edit]

A red fox on the porch of an Evergreen, Colorado home.

Fox attacks on humans are not common but have been reported. In November 2008, an incident in the United States was reported in which a jogger was attacked and bitten on the foot and arm by a rabid fox in Arizona.[11] In July 2002, a 14-week-old baby was attacked in a house in Dartford, Kent, United Kingdom.[12] In June 2010, 9-month-old twin girls were bitten on the arms and face when a fox entered their upstairs room in east London.[13]

Fox hunting[edit]

Fox hunting is an activity that originated in the United Kingdom in the 16th century. Hunting with dogs is now banned in the United Kingdom,[14][15][16][17] though hunting without dogs is still permitted. It is practiced as recreation in several other countries including Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, Italy, Russia and the United States.


There are many records of domesticated red foxes and others, but rarely of sustained domestication. A recent and notable case is the Russian silver fox, a domesticated silver fox by the Siberian Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Novosibirsk,[18] since it resulted in visible and behavioral changes, and is a case study of an animal population modeling according to human domestication needs. The current group of domesticated silver foxes are the result of nearly fifty years of experiments in the Soviet Union and Russia to domesticate the silver morph of the red fox. Notably, the new foxes became more tame, allowing themselves to be petted, whimpering to get attention and sniffing and licking their caretakers.[19] They also became more dog-like as well: they lost their distinctive musky "fox smell", became more friendly with humans, put their ears down (like dogs), wagged their tails when happy and began to vocalize and bark like domesticated dogs. They also began to exhibit other traits seen in some dog breeds, such as color pattern, curled tails, floppy ears, and shorter legs and tails.[19] They are also more likely to have piebald coats, and will almost always have a white spot on the chest or face. The breeding project was set up by the Soviet scientist Dmitri K. Belyaev.

In culture[edit]

In many cultures, the fox appears in folklore as a symbol of cunning and trickery, or as a familiar animal possessed of magic powers.

In some countries, foxes are major predators of rabbits and hens. Population oscillations of these two species were the first nonlinear oscillation studied, and led to the now-famous Lotka-Volterra equation.


  1. ^ "Fantastic Mr Fox". ESO Picture of the Week. Retrieved 11 February 2014. 
  2. ^ Jones, D.M. (1953). "Etymological Notes". Transactions of the Philological Society 52: 43–51. doi:10.1111/j.1467-968X.1953.tb00269.x. 
  3. ^ "Fox". The Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2009-04-03. 
  4. ^ "Introduction to Ojibwe Language". Real-dream-catchers.com. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  5. ^ Walker, Matt; Davies, Ella (7 March 2012). "Are red foxes getting bigger?" BBC News Online. Retrieved 2012-03-07.
  6. ^ Hildebrand, Milton (1952). "The Integument in Canidae". Journal of Mammalogy 33 (4): 419–428. doi:10.2307/1376014. JSTOR 1376014. 
  7. ^ Trut, Lyudmila N. (1999). "Early Canid Domestication: The Fox Farm Experiment". American Scientist 87. 
  8. ^ Fedriani, J.M.; T. K. Fuller, R. M. Sauvajot, E. C. York (2000-07-05). "Competition and intraguild predation among three sympatric carnivores". Oecologia 125 (2): 258–270. doi:10.1007/s004420000448. 
  9. ^ Fox, David L. (2007). "Vulpes vulpes (red fox)". Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. 
  10. ^ McCandless, Linda Foxes are Beneficial on Fruit Farms. nysaes.cornell.edu (1997-04-24)
  11. ^ "Attacked jogger takes fox for run". BBC News. 2008-11-06. 
  12. ^ "Baby 'attacked by fox'". BBC News. 2002-07-01. 
  13. ^ "Twin girls injured in suspected fox attack". BBC News. 2010-06-06. 
  14. ^ "Hunt campaigners lose legal bid". BBC News Online. 2006-06-23. 
  15. ^ Singh, Anita (2009-09-18). "David Cameron 'to vote against fox hunting ban'". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2010-05-02. [dead link]
  16. ^ Fox Hunting. North West League Against Cruel Sports Support Group. nwlacs.co.uk
  17. ^ "Fox Hunting: For and Against". 
  18. ^ "The most affectionate foxes are bred in Novosibirsk". Redhotrussia.com. Retrieved 2014-04-08. 
  19. ^ a b Kenneth Mason, Jonathan Losos, Susan Singer, Peter Raven, George Johnson(2011)Biology Ninth Edition, p. 423. McGraw-Hill, New York.ISBN 978-0-07-353222-6.
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The Canidae /ˈkænɨd/ [2] are the biological family of carnivorans that includes domestic dogs, wolves, foxes, jackals, coyotes, and many other lesser known extant and extinct dog-like mammals. A member of this family is called a canid (/ˈkænɨd/, /ˈknɨd/).[3] The Canidae family is divided into two tribes: Canini (related to wolves) and Vulpini (related to foxes). The two species of the basal Caninae are more primitive and do not fit into either tribe.

Classification and relationship[edit]

Skulls of various Canid genera; Vulpes (corsac fox), Nyctereutes (raccoon dog), Cuon (dhole) and Canis (golden jackal).

The subdivision of Canidae into "foxes" and "true dogs" may not be in accordance with the actual relations; also, the taxonomic classification of several canids is disputed. Recent DNA analysis shows that Canini (dogs) and Vulpini (foxes) are valid clades (see phylogeny below[further explanation needed]). Molecular data imply a North American origin of living Canidae and an African origin of wolf-like canines (Canis, Cuon, and Lycaon).[4]

Currently, the domestic dog is listed as a subspecies of Canis lupus, C. l. familiaris, and the dingo (also considered a domestic dog) as C. l. dingo, provisionally a separate subspecies from C. l. familiaris; the red wolf, eastern Canadian wolf, and Indian wolf are recognized as subspecies.[1] Many sources list the domestic dog as Canis familiaris, but others, including the Smithsonian Institution and the American Society of Mammalogists, more precisely list it as a subspecies of C. l. familiaris; the red wolf, eastern Canadian wolf, and Indian wolf may or may not be separate species; in the past, the dingo has been variously classified as Canis dingo, Canis familiaris dingo and Canis lupus familiaris dingo.


Evolution of the Canids
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Modern-looking dogs[verification needed]
An approximate timescale of key events in canid evolution.
For precise dates, see text.
Axis scale: millions of years ago.

Eocene epoch[edit]

Carnivorans evolved from miacoids about 55 million years ago (Mya) during the late Paleocene.[5] Then, about 50 Mya, the carnivorans split into two main divisions: caniforms (dog-like) and feliforms (cat-like). By 40 Mya, the first clearly identifiable member of the dog family, Canidae, had arisen. Called Prohesperocyon wilsoni, it was found in what is now southwestern Texas. This fossil species bears a combination of features that definitively mark it as a canid: teeth that include the loss of the upper third molar (a general trend toward a more shearing bite), and the characteristically enlarged bony bulla (the rounded covering over the middle ear). Based on what is known about its descendants, Prohesperocyon likely had slightly more elongated limbs than its predecessors, along with parallel and closely touching toes, rather than splayed as in bears.[6]

The Canidae family soon subdivided into three subfamilies, each of which diverged during the Eocene: Hesperocyoninae (about 39.74-15 Mya), Borophaginae (about 34-2 Mya), and the Caninae (about 34-0 Mya) lineage that led to present-day canids (wolves, foxes, coyotes, jackals, and domestic dogs). Each of these groups showed an increase in body mass with time, and sometimes exhibited specialised hypercarnivorous diets that made them prone to extinction.[7]:Fig. 1 Only the Caninae lineage, commonly referred to as "canines", survived to the present day.

Oligocene epoch[edit]

By the Oligocene, all three subfamilies of canids (Hesperocyoninae, Borophaginae, and Caninae) had appeared in the fossil records of North America. The earliest and most primitive branch of the Canidae was the Hesperocyoninae lineage, which included the coyote-sized Mesocyon of the Oligocene (38-24 Mya). These early canids probably evolved for the fast pursuit of prey in a grassland habitat; they resembled modern civets in appearance. Hesperocyonines eventually became extinct in the middle Miocene. One of the early member of the Hesperocyonines, the genus Hesperocyon, gave rise to Archaeocyon and Leptocyon. These branches led to the borophagine and canine radiations.[8]

Miocene epoch[edit]

Around 9-10 Mya during the Late Miocene, Canis, Urocyon, and Vulpes genera expanded from southwestern North America, where the canine radiation began. The success of these canines was related to the development of lower carnassials that were capable of both mastication and shearing. Around 8 Mya, Beringia offered the canines a way to enter Eurasia.

Pliocene epoch[edit]

During the Pliocene, around 4-5 Mya, Canis lepophagus appeared in North America. This was small and sometimes coyote-like. Others were wolf-like in characteristics.Canis latrans (the coyote) is theorized to have descended from Canis lepophagus.[9]

The formation of the Isthmus of Panama, about 3 Mya, joined South America to North America, allowing canids to invade the former, where they diversified.

Pleistocene epoch[edit]

Around 1.5 to 1.8 Mya, a variety of wolves were present in Europe.[citation needed] Also, the North American wolf line appeared with Canis edwardii, clearly identifiable as a wolf. Canis rufus appeared, possibly a direct descendent of Canis edwardii. Around 0.8 Mya, Canis ambrusteri emerged in North America. A large wolf, it was found all over North and Central America, and was eventually supplanted by its descendant, Canis dirus, the dire wolf, which then also spread into South America during the late Pleistocene.

By 0.3 Mya, Canis lupus was fully developed and had spread throughout Europe and northern Asia, and Beringia offered a way to North America.[10] At around 100,000 years ago, the dire wolf, one of the largest members of the dog family, had spread from South America to southern Canada and from coast to coast. The dire wolf shared its habitat with the gray wolf. Around 8,000 years ago, the dire wolf became extinct.


Comparative illustration of the paws of grey wolf, golden jackal and dhole by A. N. Komarov.

Wild canids are found on every continent except Antarctica, and inhabit a wide range of different habitats, including deserts, mountains, forests, and grasslands. They vary in size from the fennec fox at 24 cm (9.4 in) long, to the gray wolf, which may be up to 2 m (6.6 ft) long, and can weigh up to 80 kg (180 lb).

With the exceptions of the bush dog, raccoon dog, and some domestic breeds of Canis lupus, canids have relatively long legs and lithe bodies, adapted for chasing prey. All canids are digitigrade, meaning they walk on their toes. They possess bushy tails, nonretractile claws, and, excepting the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus), a dewclaw on the front feet. They possess a baculum that, together with a cavernous body, helps to create a copulatory tie during mating, locking the animals together for up to an hour. Young canids are born blind, with their eyes opening a few weeks after birth.[11] All living canids (Caninae) have a ligament analogous to the nuchal ligament of ungulates used to maintain the posture of the head and neck with little active muscle exertion; this ligament allows them to conserve energy while running long distances following scent trails with their nose to the ground.[12] However, based on skeletal details of the neck, at least some Borophaginae (such as Aelurodon) are believed to have lacked this ligament.[12]

Gray wolf pack hunting an American bison in Yellowstone National Park.

Only a few species are arboreal - the North American gray fox, the closely related Channel Island fox,[13] and the raccoon dog habitually climb trees.[14][15][16]

Social behavior[edit]

Almost all canids are social animals and live together in groups. In most foxes, and in many of the true dogs, a male and female pair work together to hunt and to raise their young. Gray wolves and some of the other larger canids live in larger groups called packs. African wild dogs have the largest packs, which can number as many as 90 animals. Some species form packs or live in small family groups depending on the circumstances, including the type of available food. In most species, some individuals live on their own. Within a canid pack, there is a system of dominance so that the strongest, most experienced animals lead the pack. In most cases, the dominant male and female are the only pack members to breed.

Canids communicate with each other by scent signals, by visual clues and gestures, and by vocalizations such as growls, barks, and howls. In most cases, groups have a home territory from which they drive out others. The territory is marked by leaving urine scent marks, which warn trespassing individuals.[17]


Most canids bear young once a year, from one to 16 or more (in the case of the African wild dog) at a time. The young are born small and helpless and require a long period of care. They are kept in a den, most often dug into the ground, for warmth and protection. When they begin eating solid food, both parents, and often other pack members, bring food back for them from the hunt. This is most often vomited up from the adult's stomach. Young canids may take a year to mature and learn the skills they need to survive.[18]

Reproductive anatomy[edit]

In male canids, the penis is supported by a bone called the baculum. It also contains a structure at the base called the bulbus glandis.[19][further explanation needed]


Most canids have 42 teeth, with a dental formula of: As in other members of Carnivora, the upper fourth premolar and lower first molar are adapted as carnassial teeth for slicing flesh. The molar teeth are strong in most species, allowing the animals to crack open bone to reach the marrow. The deciduous, or baby teeth, formula in canids is 3 1 3; molars are completely absent.

Species and taxonomy[edit]

FAMILY CANIDAE (Extant and recently extinct species)

Subfamily Caninae[edit]

Fluctuation of species within Canidae over 40 million years

Prehistoric Canidae[edit]

Classification of Hesperocyoninae from Wang (1994);[20] Borophaginae from Wang, Tedford, Taylor (1999),;[21] and Caninae from Tedford, Wang, Taylor (2009)[22] except where noted.



(Mya = million years ago) (million years = in existence)


(Mya = million years ago)

Canids and humans[edit]

Traditional English fox hunt

One canid, the domestic dog, a subspecies of the gray wolf, long ago entered into a partnership with humans, and today remains one of the most widely kept domestic animals in the world and serves humanity in many important ways. This partnership is documented as far back as 26,000 years ago, when the footprints of a young boy about the age of eight to 10 years old was found in Chauvet Cave in southern France, alongside of what was identified as a large dog or wolf.[26]

The earliest recorded fossil of a dog was found to be around 31,700 years ago in Goyet Cave in Belgium.[27] This is indicative of the relationship canids and humans had during the evolution of wolves to dogs. Still even early on, wolves were found fossilized with humans that date back 300,000 years ago, which shows how far back humans and wolves had interaction with one another.[28] The bond most pet owners have towards their dogs can be traced back early on in the dog. This affection can be seen with the burial of dogs with humans as early as 11,000 years ago in the Americas and 8,500 years ago in Europe.[28]

Among canids, only the gray wolf has widely been known to prey on humans.[29] Nonetheless, at least two records have coyotes killing humans,[30] and two have golden jackals killing children.[31] Human beings have trapped and hunted some canid species for their fur and, especially the gray wolf and the red fox, for sport. Some canids are now endangered in the wild because of hunting, habitat loss, and introduction of diseases from domestic dogs.[32]


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  2. ^ Canidae. Dictionary.com. The American Heritage Stedman's Medical Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Company. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Canidae (accessed: February 16, 2009).
  3. ^ canid. [http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/canid Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved 2013-{{subst:LOCALMONTH}}-{{subst:LOCALDAY2}}
  4. ^ Lindblad-Toh, K.; Wade, C. M.; Mikkelsen, T. S.; Karlsson, E. K.; Jaffe, D. B.; Kamal, M.; Clamp, M.; Chang, J. L.; Kulbokas, E. J.; Zody, M. C.; Mauceli, E.; Xie, X.; Breen, M.; Wayne, R. K.; Ostrander, E. A.; Ponting, C. P.; Galibert, F.; Smith, D. R.; Dejong, P. J.; Kirkness, E.; Alvarez, P.; Biagi, T.; Brockman, W.; Butler, J.; Chin, C. W.; Cook, A.; Cuff, J.; Daly, M. J.; Decaprio, D.; Gnerre, S. (2005). "Genome sequence, comparative analysis and haplotype structure of the domestic dog" (PDF). Nature 438 (7069): 803–819. doi:10.1038/nature04338. PMID 16341006.  edit
  5. ^ "The Paleobiology Database". Paleodb.org. Retrieved 2012-06-12. 
  6. ^ Wang, Xiaoming (2008). "How Dogs Came to Run the World". Natural History Magazine. July/August. Retrieved 2008-11-28. 
  7. ^ Van Valkenburgh, B.; Wang, X.; Damuth, J. (Oct 2004). "Cope's Rule, Hypercarnivory, and Extinction in North American Canids". Science 306 (5693): 101–104. Bibcode:2004Sci...306..101V. doi:10.1126/science.1102417. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 15459388.  edit
  8. ^ Martin, L.D. 1989. Fossil history of the terrestrial carnivora. Pages 536 - 568 in J.L. Gittleman, editor. Carnivore Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution, Vol. 1. Comstock Publishing Associates: Ithaca.
  9. ^ Nowak, R.M. 1979. North American Quaternary Canis. Monograph of the Museum of Natural History, University of Kansas 6:1 - 154.
  10. ^ Nowak, R. 1992. Wolves: The great travelers of evolution. International Wolf 2(4):3 - 7.
  11. ^ Macdonald, D. (1984). The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File. p. 57. ISBN 0-87196-871-1. 
  12. ^ a b Wang, Xiaoming and Tedford, Richard H. Dogs: Their Fossil Relatives and Evolutionary History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008. pp.97-8
  13. ^ "ADW: Urocyon littoralis: INFORMATION". Animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu. 1999-11-28. Retrieved 2012-06-12. 
  14. ^ Kauhala K. & Saeki M. (2004). »Raccoon Dog«. Canid Species Accounts. IUCN/SSC Canid Specialist Group. Pridobljeno 15.4.2009.
  15. ^ Ikeda, Hiroshi (August 1986). "Old dogs, new tricks: Asia's raccoon dog, a venerable member of the canid family is pushing into new frontiers". Natural History 95 (8): p40,44. 
  16. ^ Raccoon dog – Nyctereutes procyonoides. WAZA – World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
  17. ^ Nowak, R. M., and J. L. Paradiso. 1983. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-2525-3.
  18. ^ Voelker, W. 1986. The Natural History of Living Mammals. Medford, New Jersey: Plexus Publishing. ISBN 0-937548-08-1
  19. ^ R. F. Ewer (1973). The Carnivores. Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-8493-3. Retrieved 9 January 2013. 
  20. ^ Wang, Xiaoming (1994). "Phylogenetic systematics of the Hesperocyoninae". Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 221: 1–207. hdl:2246/829. 
  21. ^ Wang, Xiaoming (1999). "Phylogenetic systematics of the Borophaginae". Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 243: 1–391. hdl:2246/1588. 
  22. ^ a b Tedford, Richard; Xiaoming Wang, Beryl E. Taylor (2009). "Phylogenetic systematics of the North American fossil Caninae (Carnivora: Canidae)". Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 325: 1–218. doi:10.1206/574.1. 
  23. ^ a b Hayes, F.G. (2000). "The Brooksville 2 local fauna (Arikareean, latest Oligocene) Hernando County, Florida". Bulletin of the Florida Museum of Natural History 43 (1): 1–47. 
  24. ^ Wang, Xiaoming; Wideman, Benjamin C.; Nichols, Ralph; Hanneman, Debra L. (2004). "A new species of Aelurodon (Carnivora, Canidae) from the Barstovian of Montana" (PDF). Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 24 (2): 445–452. doi:10.1671/2493. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-08. 
  25. ^ Wang, Xiaoming (2003). "New Material of Osbornodon from the Early Hemingfordian of Nebraska and Florida" (PDF). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 279: 163–176. doi:10.1206/0003-0090(2003)279<0163:C>2.0.CO;2. 
  26. ^ Derr, Mark (October 29, 2011). "From the Cave to the Kennel.". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 2013-11-22. Retrieved 2012-12-02. 
  27. ^ Shipman, Pat. (2009). "The Woof at the Door." (PDF). American Scientist. Archived from the original on 2013-12-04. Retrieved 2012-12-02. 
  28. ^ a b Galibert, F.; Quignon, P.; Hitte, C.; Andre, C. (2011). "Toward understanding dog evolutionary and domestication history." (PDF). Comptes Rendus Biologies 334 (3): 190–196. Archived from the original on December 4, 2013. Retrieved 2012-12-02. 
  29. ^ Kruuk, H. 2002. Hunter and Hunted: Relationships between Carnivores and People. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-81410-3.
  30. ^ "Coyote Attacks: An Increasing Suburban Problem". Archived from the original on February 24, 2006. Retrieved 2007-08-19. 
  31. ^ "Canis aureus". Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved 2007-07-31. 
  32. ^ ICUN Red List

General references[edit]

  • Xiaoming Wang, Richard H. Tedford, Mauricio Antón, Dogs: Their Fossil Relatives and Evolutionary History, New York : Columbia University Press, 2008; ISBN 978-0-231-13528-3
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