The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Fox
|American Red Fox (Vulpes fulvus).|
FOX (vulpes, Cuv.) a carnivorous animal belonging to the vulpine division of the family canidæ. Foxes may be distinguished from the dogs, wolves, and other diurnal canidæ, by their lower stature, pointed muzzle, shorter neck, slender limbs, and long, bushy, and cylindrical tail; the fur is finer, thicker, and more glossy; they diffuse a strong scent from a gland at the base of the tail, so that hounds can easily track them; they dig burrows, and hunt at night, the pupil of the eye forming a vertical fissure; the dentition is the same as that of the wolf and dog. Foxes are shy, cunning, suspicious, cleanly, unsociable, and incapable of true domesticity; their senses of sight, smell, and hearing are very acute, and their speed is great; their tricks to escape their enemies and to seize their prey are so remarkable, that the epithet foxy is proverbially applied to the cunning, deceitful, and unscrupulous knave. Stealing from his hiding place at night, the fox follows the steps of small animals, and pounces upon the hare in her form, and grouse, partridges, and pheasants on their nests; he is fond of fruit, especially grapes, and will eat squirrels, rats, moles, field mice, cheese, fish, and also small reptiles, insects, and even carrion; in cultivated districts he is fond of visiting the farm yard in search of poultry and eggs. Foxes are so cunning that they are very rarely taken in any kind of trap; the favorite and surest way of destroying them is by meat poisoned by strychnine, which is now familiarly employed for this purpose even by our remote Indian tribes. They bring forth once a year, from four to eight at a birth, the young being born with the eyes closed; the breeding season in the northern states begins toward the end of February, and gestation continues 60 to 65 days. There is considerable variety in the tones of the voice; they lie down in a curved form, sleep profoundly, and, when watching birds, stretch the hind legs behind them, a habit noticed in some dogs; they hunt singly, each one plundering for the satisfaction of his own appetite. Of the 14 or more well ascertained species, six are found in the United States; they are distributed over the surface of both hemispheres, most abundantly in the north, and never, according to Hamilton Smith, south of the equator; the resemblance between the species is greater than in other genera of the family. Prof. Baird restricts the genus vulpes to those species having a long muzzle, the tail with soft fur and long hair uniformly mixed, and the temporal crests of the skull coming nearly in contact, the red fox being the type of this section; he proposes the genus urocyon for those species which, like the gray fox, have a short muzzle, the tail with a concealed mane of stiff hairs without any intermixture of soft fur, the temporal crests always widely separated, and the under jaw with an angular emargination below. The common American red fox (V.fuhus, Desrn.) has long, silky fur, with a full bushy tail tipped with white; the color is reddish yellow, grizzled with gray on the lower back; throat and narrow line on the belly white; back of ears and tips of the hair on the tail (except the terminal brush) black. The cross fox, the variety decussatus (Geoff.), has the muzzle, lower parts, and legs black, the tail blacker, and a dark band between the shoulders crossed by another over them; this is found from northern New York to Canada and northern Michigan and Wisconsin, while the red variety occurs from Pennsylvania to Canada, and from the Atlantic to the Missouri. The silver or black fox, variety argentatus (Shaw), is black, except on the posterior back, where the hairs are ringed with gray, and the tip of the tail is white; this is found in Washington territory. The European red fox is a different species, the fur being less soft and long, and the tail less bushy and more tapering; the muzzle is longer, the eyes further apart, and the feet more slender; the red color is darker and the tint more uniform, with little of the golden hue of the American species; the space where the whiskers are inserted is white instead of dusky, and there is more white on the throat and belly; this is the V. vulgaris (Briss.); it is found from Spain to Norway, and from Great Britain to eastern Russia. These species and varieties vary in length from nose to root of tail from 24 to 30 in., and the tail to end of hair from 16 to 20 in. From the fact that in the bone caves of the United States no skulls of the red fox have been found, while those of the gray fox are common, it is believed by many naturalists that the American red fox is a descendant of the European V. vulgaris. The skin of the red fox is worth about $1 75, that of the cross fox about two or three times as much, and that of the black fox much more; but prices vary much according to the caprices of fashion. The American red fox, being a northern species, is rarely hunted by horses and hounds, as the nature of the country would generally render this sport impossible, and the people will not permit their standing grain to be trodden down by man and beast. In Great Britain and Ireland, on the contrary, the sport of fox hunting is one of the most popular amusements of the higher classes. — The prairie fox (V. macrourus, Baird), the largest species known, inhabits the central portions of North America, and is noted for the beauty of its fur; its general color is like that of the red fox, and it seems to run into the variety of a cross fox; the tint is yellower, and there is more white below; the tail is uncommonly full and hairy; the skull is characterized by a muzzle as much longer than that of the red fox, as is the muzzle of the latter than that of the European species. The kit or swift fox (V. velox, Say) is smaller than the red species; the head is short and broad, the ears small, and the legs short; the tail is very dense and bushy; the general color above, including the ears and tail, is yellowish gray, grizzled on the back, sides pale reddish yellow, below whitish, and tail black-tipped. The arctic fox (V. lagopus, Linn.) is chiefly confined to the arctic regions of both hemispheres, and has rarely been seen within the limits of the United States, though it has occasionally been found in Newfoundland; it is smaller than the red fox, with a very full and bushy tail, the soles of the feet thickly furred, and the pelage fine and dense; in the adult the color is white, in the young grayish leaden. We are familiar with the appearance and habits of this species through the narratives of arctic explorers. The gray fox (V. Virginianus, Schreb.; urocyon, Baird) has the head and body about 28 in. long, and the tail 14 or 15 in.; the tail has a concealed mane of stiff hairs. The color is gray varied with black; sides of neck and flanks fulvous; band encircling the muzzle black; throat white; tail hoary on the sides, rusty below, black at the tip. The head is shorter and the body stouter than in the preceding section, and the fur is much coarser. It is decidedly a southern species, being rare north of Pennsylvania, and common from that state southward, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific; it is less daring and cunning than the red fox, and rarely visits the farm yard; it invades the nests of the wild turkey, pounces upon coveys of quails, and gives chase to the rabbit like a dog. When pursued by hounds in open woods, where it cannot skulk through thick underbrush, it will very often climb a tree. In general this species does not dig a burrow, preferring a hollow log or a hole in the rocks for its den; it is often caught in steel traps, and as a pet is less playful and less odorous than the red fox. Its windings when chased afford good sport for the hunter, and its chase with horses and hounds in the southern states, where the ground is favorable, is much relished as a healthful exercise and exhilarating pastime. In Carolina this species produces from three to five young at a time in March or April. The short-tailed fox (V. or U. littoralis, Baird) is about half the size of the gray fox, with the tail only one third the length of the body; it resembles a miniature gray fox, of about the size of a house cat, though of stouter body; it was found on the island of San Miguel, on the coast of California. Other species of fox exist in Nepaul, in the Himalaya mountains, in Syria, and in Egypt, named respectively V. Hodgsonii (Hardw.), V. Himalaicus (Ogilby), V. thaleb (H. Smith), and V. Niloticus (Geoff.).
European Fox (Vulpes vulgaris).
Arctic Fox (Vulpes lagopus).