Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) - Wiki
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[Photo] Hokkaido Fox, Vulpes vulpes schrencki lying in snow in Hokkaid??, Japan. キタキツネ (北狐 kita kitsune), a Vulpes vulpes schrencki native to Hokkaido. Source: http://www.all-hokkaido.net/marugoto/
The Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) is a mammal of the order carnivora. In Great Britain and Ireland, where there are no longer any other native wild canids, it is referred to simply as the "Fox". It has the widest range of any terrestrial carnivore, being native to Canada, Alaska, almost all of the contiguous United States, Europe, North Africa and almost all of Asia, including Japan. It was introduced in Australia in the 19th century. As its name suggests, its fur is predominantly reddish-brown, but there is a naturally occurring grey morph known as the Silver Fox; a strain of tame Silver Fox has been produced from these animals by systematic domestication.
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 (狐). 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 section of the 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 Red Fox is 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 North America, the red fox's pelt has long, soft hair, whereas the fur of European red foxes is flatter and less silky.
In the wild, two other color phases are also seen. The first is silver or black, 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.
The fox's eyes are gold to yellow and have distinctive vertically slit pupils, similar to those of a feline. Their eyesight is also as sharp as that of a feline, and combined with their extreme agility for a canid, the Red Fox has been referred to as "the cat-like canid". Its long bushy tail with distinctive white tip provides balance for large jumps and complex movement. Its strong legs allow it to reach speeds of 45 miles per hour, a great benefit to catching prey or avoiding predators.
The Red Fox may reach an adult weight of 2.7-6.8 kilograms (6-15 pounds), but this varies from region to region; foxes living in Canada and Alaska tend to be larger than foxes in the United Kingdom, which are in turn larger than those inhabiting the Southern United States.
In general, the spacing between the canine teeth is approximately 11/16 to 1 inches apart. Red fox tracks are normally about 1 3/4 -inches wide and 2 1/4-inches long. A normal red fox's trotting stride is about 13 to 15 inches.
During the autumn and winter, the Red Fox will grow more fur. This so-called 'winter fur' keeps the animal warm in the colder environment. The fox sheds this fur at the onset of spring, reverting back to the short fur for the duration of the summer.
The Red Fox is found in a variety of biomes, from prairies and scrubland to forest settings. It is most suited to lower latitudes but does venture considerably far north, competing directly with the Arctic Fox on the tundra. The Red Fox has also become a familiar sight in suburban and even urban environments both in Europe and in North America, where it shares territory with the much maligned raccoon.
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, mollusks, 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.
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 behaviour (as opposed to hoarding behaviour 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.
Relationships with other predators
Along with the red fox, the gray fox is the most commonly occurring species of fox in North America. The two species have different preferences in habitat; the red fox prefers sparsely settled, hill areas with wooded tracts, marshes and streams while the gray fox is more commonly found in brushy areas, swamplands and rugged, mountainous terrain. In areas where their ranges overlap however, the gray foxes, despite being smaller, tend to be the dominant species due to higher levels of aggression. Conversely, red foxes tend to be dominant in areas where they coexist with arctic foxes. The larger, more aggressive red fox can dominate arctic foxes in direct competition for den sites and other limited resources.
In areas in North America where red fox and coyote populations are sympatric, fox territories tend to be located largely outside of coyote territories. The principal cause of this separation is believed to be active avoidance of coyotes by the foxes. Interactions between the two species vary in nature, ranging from active antagonism, to indifference. The majority of aggressive encounters are initiated by coyotes, and there are few reports of red foxes acting aggressively toward coyotes except when attacked or when their pups were approached. Conversely, foxes and coyotes have sometimes been seen feeding together.
Similairly, in Israel, the red fox shares its habitat with the golden jackal. Where their ranges meet, the two canids are in direct competition with each other due to near identical diets. Foxes generally ignore jackal scents or tracks in their territories, though they will avoid close physical proximity with jackals themselves. Studies have shown that in areas where jackals became very abundant, the population size of foxes decreases significantly, apparently because of competetive exclusion.
Foxes, may occassionally fall foul with badgers, Eurasian badgers in particular have been known to kill and eat fox cubs. However, violence between the two animals is not considered commonplace, with most encounters amounting to little more than mutual indifference.
Living as it does in a wide variety of habitats, the Red Fox displays a wide variety of behaviours. In Biology and Conservation of Wild Canids, MacDonald and Sillero-Zubiri state that two populations of the Red Fox may be behaviorally as different as two species.
The Red Fox is primarily crepuscular with a tendency to becoming nocturnal in areas of great human interference (and artificial lighting); that is to say, it is most active at night and at twilight. It is generally a solitary hunter. If a fox catches more food than it can eat, it will bury the extra food (cache) to store it for later.
In general, each fox claims its own territory; it pairs up only in winter, foraging alone in the summer. Territories may be as large as 50 square kilometres (19 square miles); ranges are much smaller (<12 square kilometres (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. One fox may only need a square kilometre of land marked by recognition posts that are special smells that come from a scent gland located just above a fox's tail.
The Red Fox has been considered a monogamous species, however evidence for polygamy (polygyny and polyandry) includes males’ extra territorial movements during breeding season (possibly searching for additional mates) and males’ home ranges overlapping two or more females’ home ranges. Such variability is thought to be linked to variation in the spatial availability of key resources such as food.
The Red Fox primarily forms 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). Young foxes disperse promptly on maturity (approx. 8-10 months).
The reason for this "group living" behaviour is not well understood; 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, the fox communicates with body language and a variety of vocalizations. Its vocal range is quite large and its noises vary from a distinctive three-yip "lost call" to a shriek reminiscent of a human scream. It also communicates with scent, marking food and territorial boundary lines with urine and feces.
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???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 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. The Red Fox reaches sexual maturity by 10 months of age, and may live for 12 years in captivity but will usually only live 3 years in the wild.
Foxes and humans
The Red Fox has both positive and negative standing with humans, often being loved or hated. This has been most visible in the United Kingdom where fox hunting with dogs was a traditional sport and the predominant means for enforcing a cull, until this was made illegal on February 18, 2005. The fox features in much folklore (see Reynard), usually as a wily villain, though sometimes also as the underdog who triumphs over human efforts to control or destroy it.
Like other wild animals, foxes are considered vectors of disease. The Red Fox helps farmers by preying on animals that damage crops but is considered to be a pest by farmers involved in poultry farming. In some places, the Red Fox is used as a food animal. The Red Fox is 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.
In Hong Kong, it is a protected species under Wild Animals Protection Ordinance Cap 170..
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 meters high in order to keep out most foxes, though on some rare occassions, 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 occassions kill young or small animals, particularly lambs and kids. In exceptional circumstances, they may attack subadult 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.
In Human Imagination
The emblematic Red Fox is a frequent player in the stories of many cultures. A trickster character, the word Sly is almost invariablly associated with foxes in English, and the connotation of a sneaking intelligence (or even magic powers of stealth) are seen in traditional tales of Europe, Japan, China, and North America (though here the Coyote usually plays this role).
In the European fable tradition, running from Aesop's Fables, to Jean de La Fontaine's Fabliaux and the Reynard tales, the fox ranges from immoral villan (as the Fox in the hen house), to sly operator (either foolish or crafty), to wise observer (as a mouthpiece for the moral in some Aesop tales) to clever underdog (exemplified by the Reynard tradition). Some historians argue that the fox came to symbolise the survival strategies of European pesantry from the Medieval period to the French Revolution. Peasants admired guile and wit needed to out maneuver the powers of aristocracy, state and church, just as they saw the fox use these same qualities to raid their livestock under cover of darkness.
Conservation problems of feral foxes in Australia
Feral foxes in Australia pose a serious conservation problem. According to the Australian Government, the Red Fox was introduced to Australia for hunting in 1855, but has since become wide-spread, and is considered responsible for the decline in a number of species of native animals in the "critical weight range". In a program known as Western Shield, Western Australia state government authorities conduct aerial and hand baiting on almost 35,000 km² (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. Reports that foxes were introduced into Tasmania led to a large-scale effort tor remove them and to find persons responsible for the introductions. To date these efforts have not met with success, and there is some debate as to if the introductions did in fact take place.
In Australia foxes are usually controlled with baits or the animals shot with the aid of spotlighting The eyeshine signature (from the tapetum in the eye) of foxes, and body shape and silhouette are used to identify them. Success has also been found with the reintroduction of the native 'Australian Dog', the Dingo, which has been shown to control the number of feral foxes, and a consequential increase in native fauna.
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