Are Northern Foxes Smaller than Southern Ones?

(A number of the links here are to academic papers, especially the ones at the end, so I’m sorry if you don’t have access to some of them.)

The small, eerily quiet cul-de-sac I live on in the middle of housing-development-and-apartment-complex filled Auburn has a surprisingly active wild life. Take, for example, the fox that trotted across our path as I walked Charlie last week.

Red_fox_crossing_road
Like this, only this is from Wikipedia. Also, this fox looks rather emaciated.

I was just blithely walking along, listening to some podcast or another, when Charlie suddenly strained, at attention, the way he does when he sees a cat. I think he must be part bird dog because he does the whole lifting one leg up and pointing with his snout my mother’s boyfriend’s birders do. I looked up in surprise and there was the fox, a few feet away, trotting calmly down the lawn of the house to our right.

It looked over at us, dismissed us as mere tourists and continued on it’s way.

Vulpes_vulpes_(cross_fox)_Norway_&_Canada
Also from Wikipedia

I was particularly struck by the size and coloring of the fox. I’ve seen a lot of them in Massachusetts (Cape Cod seems to have a fairly large fox population), but my impression of them (I feel like wild animals always leave impressions rather than information- they pass in a flash and you’re left trying to reconstruct what you saw) was that they are smaller and redder. Wikipedia claims that the red fox, the largest and most common of the foxes, don’t usually get heavier than 15 pounds, but that they are remarkably large for their weight. (Their bones are 30% lighter than dogs.), which is why this fox looked much larger than Charlie (20 pounds or so) but must have weighed much less than he did.

Foxes have a lot of variety of color. Clicking around on google reveals a lot of sources about fox coloration, many of them with images of fox pelts, (which I can’t help but find a little disturbing), other showing foxes in cages, (which is even more depressing). I asked Dylan to weigh in. An Alabaman native, he seems like the type of person who would pay attention to foxes. He agreed that most of the foxes he’s seen have been orange-ish rather than red-ish, but most of them have been domesticated.

Red_Color_Russian_domesticated_Red_Fox
This is a Russian fox experiment fox. Isn’t it so amazingly adorable?

Domesticated foxes! Being from Massachusetts, which has a lot of rules about which animals you can keep as pets and which you can’t (the latter list is much more comprehensive), domesticated foxes seem like a myth. (They also bring to mind the famous Russian experiment on fox domestication, in which fox breeders wanted to breed for tameness and inadvertently bred the adults to more and more resemble juveniles (if I remember correctly, they wanted domesticated foxes so they would be easier to raise for fur, which casts the whole thing in a different light) (Dylan has a dear wish to possess one of these Russian domesticated foxes, but at seven or so thousand dollars they are well out of the price range of a grad student (also, does that include transportation from Russia? Because I think that the cost of transporting a fox to the US would add a few more thousand. (Turns out that the main company claiming to sell these in the US was a scam, so it’s good that he restrained himself))).

I couldn’t find any information about fox populations being different in different regions, although it isn’t uncommon for that to be the case about any animal population. There is a lot of sexual dimorphism in foxes (males and females are significantly different sizes), so I could have just seen a very large male. I did find that there have been a lot of theories about carnivore sizes being influenced by temperature and altitude, but most have been debunked. From what I can tell, researchers now think that size differences are more likely to be caused by differences in food availability- cold areas tend to have less available food than warm areas.

So… maybe?

Whatever the answer, I’m excited to see what other wildlife Alabama has in store… except for, maybe, the poisonous snakes…

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