Sunday, May 6, 2012

Animal Fun Fact: Silver Fox

Scientific Name: Vulpes vulpes

Weight: 2.7 – 6.8 kg, European fox being larger than those in North America.

Description: The silver fox is the same species as the red fox, it is merely a color mutation.  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 very from crimson to golden and in fact can be brindled or agouti with bands of red, brown, black and white on each individutal 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.  Silver foxes in particular tend to occur more often in the western and northern ranges of this species.  Approximately 30% of wild indviduals 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.  It  should also be mentioned that several colors of fox may be born in the same litter.

The fox's eyes are gold to yellow and have distinctive vertically slit pupils, similar to those of the Felidae.  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.

During the autumn and winter, the red fox will grow more fur.  This 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.  Red foxes are hunted by man, one of their few enemies, for sport and fur.  They are known to be difficult to trap, as they are very cautious and intelligent.  Fox pelts especially those of silver foxes, are commonly produced commercially of fox farms.  Red fox pelts are used for trimming and for full fur garments.  Farmed silver fox has long glossy, lightweight fur with natural colors in black and white, giving a feel of silver.  Darker skins have more black and paler skins more white.  Silver fox is traditionally used for collars and cuffs, wraps and stoles.

Foxes are considered to be nuisance animals in many states.  Like other wild animals, foxes are considered are considered to vectors of disease, including rabies.  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.  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 (goat babies, not humansJ ) that disappear and are never found.

Silver Fox Experiment:  Tame Silver Foxes are the results of nearly 50 years of experiments in a breeding project in Russia set up by the Russian scientist Dmitri Belyawv to domestic the silver fox.  Starting with foxes raised on a fur farm, later generations became more tame and dog-like, were more friendly with humans, put their ears down like dogs, wagged their tails when happy, became to vocalize and bark like domestic dogs and lost their distinctive musky fox smell.

Food Source:  Red foxes are omnivorous, this dietary adaptablility being one of the main factores 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.  In urban areas, they will scavenge on human refuse, and even eat out of pet food bowls left outside.  They typically eat 0.5-1 kg (1-2 lbs) of food a day.  Foxes have a habit of creating food cashes to provide for themselves in times of scarcity.

Geographic Distribution:  The largest species within the Genus Vulpes, the Red Fox has a native range spanning most of the North American continent and Eurasia, with several populations in North Africa. A subspecies the, Japanese Red Fox, migrated from India to China to and eventually to Japan. The Red Fox has been introduced to Australia, where it poses a serious conservation problem.

Breeding Season:  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 estrus period of 1-6 days.  Although a female may mate with several males she will settle with one and he will hunt to supply food to the den for her and her kits.

Gestation: 51 days

Litter Size: Average is 5 kits, but can have as many as 13.

Life span: 3 years in the wild, 12-14 years in captivity

Love and Lightning Bugs,
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