The New International Encyclopædia/Fox

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

FOX (AS. fox, OHG. fuhs, Ger. Fuchs, fox, Goth, fauhō, vixen; possibly connected ultimately with Skt. puccha, tail). A member of a group or ‘alopecoid series’ of canine animals, more easily distinguished from the wolves, dogs, or jackals of the same family (Canidæ) by outward appearance than by zoölogical differences. They are, in general, of smaller size and less proportionate height; have longer hair, usually more reddish or yellowish than gray; larger, more triangular and furry ears; a more slender pointed muzzle, with straighter jaws; and a longer and more bushy tail, than their allies. Some zoölogists refuse to separate them even as a genus, but most students place them in the genus Vulpes, and still further separate the American gray fox as Urocyon, and the little African long-eared foxes as Fennecus. The anatomical characters upon which Vulpes is distinctly based are principally found in the skull, where “the bony projection forming the hinder border of the socket of the eye is regularly curved downward and has a convex upper surface” in the wolves and jackals; “whereas in the fox the same process is hollow above, and has a more or less marked tendency to curve upward behind”; also, the air-chambers in the frontal bones of the wolves are absent in the foxes. Another constant distinction is found in the pupil of the eye, which, when contracted, is round in the dog-like canines and elliptical in the foxes. The true foxes (apart from the African fennecs) are scattered throughout all the northerly regions of the world, from the edge of the tropical zone to the highest Arctic lands, but none are known in the Southern Hemisphere. The number of species is indeterminate, conservative naturalists regarding as local varieties various forms to which others give specific names.

All inhabit holes in the earth, usually of their own digging, but do not hibernate, are nocturnal, and subsist mainly upon animal prey which they capture by stealthy approach and a quick rush; and all utter yelping cries, and breed annually. They are believed not to have contributed in any appreciable degree to the ancestry of any race of domesticated dogs, and although everywhere highly intelligent in their field of thought, are rarely tamed as pets or trained to perform tricks well. The typical and best-known species is the European red fox (Vulpes vulgaris), the hero of British fox-hunting (see Fox-Hunting) , and the renard or Reinecke Fuchs of European folk-lore. (See Colored Plate of Canidæ.) It is spread over the whole of Europe and Asia, and is also found in Asia Minor and along the south shore of the Mediterranean. The ordinary type, familiar in Great Britain and western Europe, is reddish brown above and white below, with the outer portions of the ears and feet black, and the tip of the ‘brush,’ or tail, white. Its length may vary from 27 to 46 inches, exclusive of the tail, which is itself from 12 to 15 inches long. Colors and markings vary greatly, however, as well as size and proportions. The habits of the common fox in England are thus sketched by Lydekker and Bell, and the essential facts apply to the animal in all parts of its range:

“Although the fox is by no means averse to taking possession of the deserted burrow of a rabbit or a badger, it generally excavates its own ‘earth,’ in which it spends a considerable portion of its time. As all hunters know, foxes frequently prefer to live out in the woods, those with a northern aspect being, it is said, generally avoided. Sometimes these animals will prefer a thick hedgerow or a dry ditch, while we have known them to select the tall tussocks of coarse grass in swampy meadows as a resting-place; and they have also been found in straw-ricks, where it is on record that in one instance cubs have been born. The breeding time is in April, and the usual number of young in a litter is from four to six. The prey of the fox consists, writes Bell, ‘of hares, rabbits, various kinds of ground birds, particularly partridges, of which it destroys great numbers; and it often makes its way into the farmyard, committing sad havoc among the poultry. It has been known not infrequently to carry off a young lamb. When other food fails, the fox will, however, have recourse to rats and mice, and even to frogs and worms; while on occasion beetles are largely consumed, and on the seashore fish, crabs, and mollusks form a part of its diet. Carrion seems never to come amiss, while the old story of the fox and the grapes alludes to the fruit-eating propensities of these animals.’ The usual cry of the fox is a yelping bark. The well-known scent of the fox is secreted by a gland situated beneath the tail. The cunning exhibited by English foxes in escaping from hounds has been so often described that we shall make no further allusion to it here, beyond saying that it has probably attained its present development as the result of the inherited experience of many generations. The life of the fox is a precarious one; the huntsman is his friend and the gamekeeper his foe; and were he not specially protected for the sport he gives to hounds and men, he would, like the wolf, have long since been extinct in England. That the fox is an ancient inhabitant of the British Islands is proved by the occurrence of its fossilized remains in caverns in company with those of the mammoth and other extinct animals. This, however, is not all, for a skull . . . has been dug up from the sands lying at the top of the Red Crag of Suffolk, which are vastly older than the mammoth period.”

As the Old World fox is traced eastward distinct local varieties are encountered, which, however, intergrade. Thus a black-bellied fox is characteristic of southern Europe, and is decidedly different from the ordinary colors of the North African variety. The dry plains of western Asia support a paler form, and this is succeeded eastward by two much larger types of the eastern and western Himalayas, which, in winter, when the coat is long and the colors are heightened, are extremely handsome: a characteristic marking among these is a dark stripe athwart the shoulders. Siberia, China, and Japan likewise have varieties of this same one species, which, if the American red fox be also included, ranges throughout almost the entire Northern Hemisphere, and has the most extensive distribution of any of the Canidæ. Asia possesses some other very distinct species of foxes, nevertheless, of which the most familiar is the small, alert, and pretty Indian fox (Vulpes Bengalensis) to be met with all over Hindustan, except in thickly forested regions. It is rarely hunted by scent, with foxhounds; but frequently affords good sport by coursing with greyhounds. Three other species of ‘desert’ foxes, all pale and yellowish in hue, belong to the open sandy plains and table-lands between Arabia and Afghanistan. One of these is the widely spread desert fox (Vulpes leucopus); another, the better-known corsac (q.v.), and the other varieties inhabit Thibet and Afghanistan. The earliest fossil remains of distinctly canine beasts are fox-like animals of the Middle Tertiary period.

American Foxes. Several species of fox are characteristic of North America. The most widespread and conspicuous is the red fox, called by American zoölogists a distinct species (Vulpes Pennsylvanica), but regarded by European students as a local phase of the circumpolar ‘common’ fox, heretofore described. It is hard to distinguish it in the normal type from the European fox, though the colors are, on the average, rather brighter; and it varies on our continent quite as diversely as does the fox of the Old World. The normal red fox remains common in spite of the civilization of the country throughout the eastern United States and Canada, westward to the Plains, as far south as northern Georgia; and reappears west of the Rocky Mountains and thence to the Pacific Coast in a paler large-tailed form. In the far north occur more rarely two other varieties — the cross fox and the silver fox. The former is simply a more or less normal red fox, marked sometimes strongly, sometimes indefinitely, with a dark cross on the back and shoulders, fine specimens of which are given a superior value by traders in peltries. The latter, or silver fox (var. argentata), is much rarer, and is black, with a silvered or hoary appearance due to many of the hairs being tipped with white; the tail is black with a white tip, and the soles of the feet are hairy, fitting it for life amid ice and snow. Good pelts of the silver fox are extremely valuable. That both these are merely phases of the red fox is plain from the fact that they may be born in the same litter with normally red cubs. Foxes totally black also occur frequently in the Hudson Bay region. The American red fox had originally much the same habits as those of the European animal, seems to be deserving of quite as much credit for sagacity and acuteness, and has learned to accommodate itself as well to the exigencies brought by civilization and the chase. The writings of American naturalists and sportsmen abound in interesting stories of its alertness, ingenuity, and adaptiveness, and show that it has spread and survived in the United States, where the gray fox has diminished.

A small grayer species of the southern California coast (Vulpes macrotis) is conspicuously distinguished by its great ears.

The Kit, Swift, or Burrowing Fox (Vulpes velox) is a well-marked species of the dry plains of the United States, whose range extends from Colorado and Nebraska north to the Saskatchewan Valley. It is small, only about 20 inches long, slender and compact in form. Its color is yellowish-gray on the upper surfaces, fading through reddish to white on the belly and legs, and there is a black patch on each side of the muzzle. The ears are short and densely furred, and the soles of the feet are overgrown with long woolly hair, like those of the Arctic fox. It digs burrows with skill and speed, feeds upon small rodents, insects, small birds and their eggs, etc., and is remarkably swift of foot and dexterous in hiding. Its fur becomes thick in winter and pale gray in color, rendering it nearly invisible. See Plate of Foxes And Jackals.

The Blue or Arctic Fox (Vulpes lagopus) is one of the most interesting of all the species. It is known all around the Arctic shores, and in summer is a variable brown (even sooty in some cases) on the upper parts, and yellowish-white on the ventral surfaces, throat, etc.; the under fur, however, is everywhere dull blue. This bluish tint frequently appears in the summer dress in patches in the foxes of all regions; but in those of the Aleutian Islands and southeastern Alaska it characterizes the whole pelage, and gives the name ‘blue’ fox to the animal in that region. E. W. Nelson, who describes it at length in his Natural History of Alaska (Washington, 1887), concludes that this is the typical, original form, from which the brownish and blackish foxes elsewhere are variants. The blue foxes remain of that color all winter, putting on a longer, thicker coat as cold weather approaches; but elsewhere all the Arctic foxes become purely white about October, and remain so until spring, rendering them almost invisible upon the snow and aiding them to steal upon their prey. They are animals of the open country and seacoast, and in winter they often visit the Eskimo villages or come close to their camps, and are easily trapped. “Parts of the country,” says Nelson, speaking of Alaska, “where rocky ledges occur, are especially frequented by them, as the crevices among the rooks give them welcome shelter. During summer they fare sumptuously upon the breeding waterfowl, eggs, and young birds, which are found everywhere, but in winter comes harder work, and the ground is carefully searched for stray mice, lemmings, or an occasional ptarmigan. In early spring, toward the end of March, when the seals begin to haul up on the ice and the first young are born, thousands of these foxes go out seaward and live upon the ice the rest of the season. The young seal's offal, left by hunters and from other sources, gives them more food there than the shore affords at this time.” It may be added to this that Feilden, who was with the Polar expedition of Nares, A Voyage to the Polar Sea (London, 1878), found that in Grinnell Land these foxes subsisted in winter largely upon stores of frozen lemmings, etc., which they had hidden in crevices of rocks or had buried in the ground. The fur of this fox is very valuable, and most of all that of blue foxes of the Aleutians, where they are now to a certain extent protected, not only, but where they have been colonized upon certain islands, and are being bred and provided with food as a regular fur-raising industry. See Alaska; and Colored Plate of Canidæ.

The Gray Fox is a species (Urocyon argenteus) of the United States, which is generally separated from other foxes by cranial peculiarities, and by the fact that the tail has a concealed mane of stiff hairs. The general coat is silver-gray above and whitish on the under parts, but the chin and a patch on the nose are black, and the base of ears, patch at side of neck, collar on throat, interior surface of fore legs, and a broad band along the belly are cinnamon rufous. The size is about the same as that of the rod fox, but the hair is stiffer and less admirable as a pelt. This species is generally distributed over the United States, but in the West differs locally so much from the Eastern type that no less than five subspecies have been named. It is accustomed to life in the forests rather than in open country, and has unusual ability in tree-climbing; but it seems to be less adaptive than the red fox, and has almost disappeared from the thickly settled and much-cleared Northern and Eastern States. See Plate of Foxes And Jackals.

Consult: for Old World foxes, Bell, British Quadrupeds (2d ed., London, 1874); Mivart, Monograph of the Canidæ (London, 1890); Brehm, Thierleben (Leipzig, 1876), English translation by Pechnel-Loesche and Haacke (Chicago, 1894-96); Blanford, Fauna of British India: Mammalia (London, 1889-91); and general works. For American foxes, Richardson, Fauna Boreali Americana (London, 1829); Audubon and Bachman, Quadrupeds of North America (New York, 1851); Merriam, Transactions of the Linnæan Society of New York, vol. i. (New York, 1882); Burroughs, Winter Sunshine (New York, 1870); Cram, Little Beasts of Field and Wood (Boston, 1889); and general works upon Alaska and the Arctic Coast.

NIE 1905 Fox.jpg
1. KIT FOX (Vulpes velox).
2. LALANDE'S FOX-DOG (Otocyon Lalandii).
3. FENNEC (Canis zerda).
4. CORSAC (Canis corsac).
5. GRAY FOX (Urocyon cinereo-argentatus).
6. JACKAL (Canis aureus).