The fox is a canid, related to coyotes, jackals, and wolves. The fox is the smallest member of the dog family. It is also the most numerous and widespread carnivore in the world. Although primarily carnivorous, foxes will also eat fruits and grains. Foxes hold territories, the size of which depends on habitat. A dog fox, a vixen, and their cubs occupy each territory. Adiffering number of chromosomes eliminate the possibility of foxes interbreeding with other canids. Fox populations fluctuate along with the population cycles of their prey. In many cases, availability of dens and secure sites for hiding will also play an important role in population size. Foxes have few natural predators. However, in mountainous regions, coyotes and cougars will sometimes attack foxes. In arid lands, wild dogs, large cats, and hyenas are problematic, and will often compete with foxes for food. In arctic regions, the wolf can also be a dangerous competitor. Foxes appear to have characteristics of both dogs and cats. Some of their catlike characteristics include vertical slit eyes, partially retractable claws, light body weight, and a stalking and pouncing style of hunting. Foxes are also good tree climbers. Fox coloration varies among black, red, silver, silver-gray and white.
The Life Cycle of Foxes
During December and January, vixens leave scent marks that tell the male fox she is in estrus. The dog will follow the marks until he finds her. The courtship is very short, since the vixen is only fertile for about one week each year. Litter sizes are normally one to six. The dog fox helps the vixen raise the cubs during the first two months. For the first month or so, the vixen depends entirely on the dog fox to bring her food. In the first two weeks, the cubs are unable to see or hear anything. They are fed by the mother's milk. The fur is short and black. After three weeks, the fur will slowly turn dark brown on the head, and gray on the body. The teeth break through the gum, and the cub starts to chew on anything. Soon the cub starts to show the first signs of social behavior, and the first fights are fought between the siblings. After four weeks, the cubs start exploring the world outside the den for the first time. Later, they start to follow their mother when she goes hunting. In the summer, the young foxes get more and more independent from the mother fox. After about three months, the dog fox will go back to his solitary lifestyle, but he will try to find the same vixen again when the mating season comes back. In the fall, the young foxes come into puberty and become sexually mature. It is then that the vixen begins to force the cubs out of the den.
Destructive and Beneficial Foxes
Foxes may cause serious problems for farmers. Losses may be heavy in small farm flocks of chickens, ducks, and geese. Damage by foxes can be difficult to detect because the prey is usually carried from the kill site to a den, or uneaten parts are buried. Foxes will also scavenge carcasses, making the actual cause of death difficult to determine. Like other scavengers, foxes will clean up carcasses, or kill dying or weak animals for food. In this manner they are a major contributor to the processes of natural selection.
Genus: Vulpes, with twelve species
Geographical location: All continents except Antarctica
Habitat: Temperate climates, although some live in desert and Arctic regions; generally next to water, meadows, and forests
Gestational period: Fifty to sixty days
Life span: Up to six years in the wild; up to thirteen years in captivity
Special anatomy: Pointy muzzles, large ears, long thin bodies, long legs, long bushy tails
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