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Fox is a common name for many species of carnivorous mammals belonging to the Canidae family. Foxes are small to medium-sized canids (slightly smaller than the domestic dog), characterized by possessing a long narrow snout, and a 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 has led to their appearance in both popular culture and folklore in many cultures around the world (see also Foxes in culture).

Etymology

The Modern English "fox" is Old English, and comes from the Proto-Germanic word fukh – compare German Fuchs, Gothic fauho, Old Norse foa and Dutch vos. It corresponds to the Proto-Indo-European word puk- meaning "tail of it" (compare Sanskrit puccha, also "tail"). The bushy tail is also the source of the word for fox in Welsh: llwynog, from llwyn, "bush, grove". Lithuanian: uodegis, from uodega, "tail", Portuguese: raposa, from rabo, "tail" and Ojibwa: waagosh, from waa, which refers to the up and down "bounce" or flickering of an animal or its tail. Male foxes are known as dogs or reynards, females as vixen, and young as pups; a group of foxes is a "skulk", "troop" or "earth".

General characteristics

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. Dogs (male foxes) weigh on average, 5.9 kilograms (13 lb) and vixens (female foxes) weigh less, at around 5.2 kilograms (11.5 lb). Fox-like features typically include a cute 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.

Unlike many canids, foxes are not usually pack animals. Typically, they live in small family groups, opportunistic feeders that hunt live prey (especially rodents). Using a pouncing technique practised from an early age, they are usually able to kill their prey quickly. Foxes also gather a wide variety of other foods ranging from grasshoppers to fruit and berries.

Foxes are normally extremely wary of humans and are not 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: pigmentation changes, floppy ears, and curly tails.

Classification

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

Diet

Foxes are omnivores. The diet of foxes is largely made up of invertebrates. However, it also includes rodents, rabbits and other small mammals, reptiles, (such as snakes), amphibians, grasses, berries, fruit, fish, birds, egg, dung beetles 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.

Fox attacks on lambs cost Australian sheep breeders more than AUD$100 million annually.

Conservation

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

Red foxes have been introduced into Australia which lacks similar carnivores, and the introduced foxes prey on native wildlife, some to the point of extinction. A similar introduction occurred in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in temperate North America, where European reds (Vulpes vulpes) were brought to the colonies for fox hunting, where they devastated the American red fox population through more aggressive hunting and breeding. Interbreeding with American reds, traits of the European red eventually pervaded the gene pool, leaving European and American foxes now virtually identical.

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. 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.

Historians believe foxes were 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 Tepemarker in eastern Turkeymarker.

Relationships with humans

A fox watching at the edge of the forest.
Fox attacks on humans are not common but have been reported. In November 2008 an incident in Arizonamarker, USA was reported in which a jogger was attacked and bitten by a rabid fox.

Fox hunting

Fox hunting is a controversial sport that originated in the United Kingdommarker in the 16th century. Hunting with dogs is now banned in the United Kingdom, though hunting without dogs is still permitted. The sport is practised in several other countries including Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, Italy, Russia and the United States.

Domestication

The Russian Silver Fox, or Domesticated Silver Fox, is the result of nearly 50 years of experiments in the Soviet Union and Russia to domesticate the silver morph of the Red Fox. Notably, the new foxes not only became more tame, but 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. The breeding project was set up by the Soviet scientist Dmitri Belyaev.

See also



References

  1. Transactions of the Philological Society, retrieved August 31st 2008
  2. The Online Etymology Dictionary, retrieved Apr 3rd 2009: headword "Fox"
  3. Introduction to Ojibwe Language
  4. Early Canid Domestication: The Fox Farm Experiment
  5. University of Michigan Musem of Zoology
  6. Southern New England Landcare Group, Foxchat No. 71, June-July 1009
  7. Foxes on Fruit Farms
  8. " Attacked jogger takes fox for run". BBC News Online. 6 Nov 2008.
  9. " Hunt campaigners lose legal bid". BBC News Online. 23 Jun 2006.


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