Dogs, Wolves, Coyotes, Jackals, and Foxes: Canidae

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DOGS, WOLVES, COYOTES, JACKALS, AND FOXES: Canidae

GRAY WOLF (Canis lupus): SPECIES ACCOUNTS
RED FOX (Vulpes vulpes): SPECIES ACCOUNTS
MANED WOLF (Chrysocyon brachyurus): SPECIES ACCOUNTS

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Canids (members of the dog family) have a uniform body color with markings on the head and tail tip. Dogs typically come in black, black and white, brown, or red. The only exception is the African wild dog that has patches of black, white, and yellow. The canid's coat consists of a dense underfur and an overcoat of waterproof guard hairs, which retain a large amount of body heat for survival in very cold climates. Canids range in weight from the fennec fox, at about 3 pounds (1.3 kilograms), to the gray wolf, which can be as heavy as 175 pounds (80 kilograms). They are digitigrade, walking on their toes. This enables them to make quick stops and turns. A keen sense of smell comes from more than 200 million scent cells in the nose (humans have about five million scent cells).

GEOGRAPHIC RANGE

Canids live on every continent except Antarctica.

HABITAT

Most canids favor areas where forests meet open country. Some live in deserts. The Arctic fox and some gray wolves occupy the tundra. The bush dog and raccoon dog prefer thick forests near water. Canids have also adapted to human environments.

DIET

Canids primarily prey on other mammals. Large prey include elk and caribou, and small animals include rodents and rabbits. They also eat insects, berries, carrion (dead and decaying flesh), and garbage.

BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION

Canids live in packs, or social groups, ruled by a male and his partner. They communicate through vocalization, including barks, growls, and howls. They also use body language, such as erecting the fur, to show dominance. Canids mate for life, with the whole pack parenting the young.

CANIDS AND PEOPLE

Many canids are hunted for their fur. Humans have always felt threatened by certain canids, such as wolves and foxes. Canids sometimes prey on pets and livestock.

A SUPERB ATHLETE

The red fox is sometimes compared to an athlete, with its stamina and grace. It can hunt day and night, trotting more than 6 miles (10 kilometers) a day and running as fast as 30 miles (48 kilometers) per hour. When attacking prey, the fox uses a lunge-and-pounce move, first crouching very low, then jumping as far as 17 feet (5 meters) over ground to pounce on the surprised prey.

CONSERVATION STATUS

The United States lists the red wolf as Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild, because of habitat loss due to deforestation and hunting. The IUCN classifies the African hunting wolf and the Ethiopian wolf as Endangered because of habitat loss resulting from human settlement and killing.

GRAY WOLF (Canis lupus): SPECIES ACCOUNTS

Physical characteristics: The gray wolf, ancestor to the domestic dog, is the largest of the wild dogs. Males weigh up to 175 pounds (80 kilograms). The smoky gray fur is tipped with brown or red hair. The long, bushy tail helps the wolf keep its balance when running, while large, padded paws provide traction (resistance to slipping), especially in snow.


Geographic range: Gray wolves, although sparsely populated, occur in more than fifty countries, including the United States, Canada, Russia, Spain, Portugal, and Italy.


Habitat: Gray wolves live in deciduous forests inhabited by their main prey, herbivores (plant-eaters), such as deer, elk, and moose. They also thrive in the tundra and desert, where they prey on small animals.


Diet: Packs hunt large ungulates, or hoofed animals, such as elk and deer, but lone wolves usually hunt smaller animals, including rabbits,

beavers, and mice. Wolves also eat carrion and prey on domestic livestock, insects, fish, and berries. In the Arctic, they eat birds, seals, and caribou. An adult eats an average of 5.5 to 13 pounds (2.5 to 6 kilograms) of food per day. If food is unavailable, it can fast for two or more weeks.


Behavior and reproduction: Gray wolves live in packs of as many as thirty individuals, consisting of parents, offspring, and relatives. The top dogs are the dominant male and female, called the alpha pair. They alone breed and feed first. However, younger and more powerful members may replace the leaders at any time. Sometimes, couples pair off and leave the pack.

The pack uses facial expressions, body postures, and vocalizations to communicate. Members show submission by licking the leader's face or rolling on their back. Howling is used to warn other packs that a certain territory is taken, to announce the start of a hunting expedition, or to summon members to help defend a kill. The pack hunts together, traveling for up to 30 miles (about 48 kilometers) a day.

Gray wolves mate for life, producing six or seven pups a year. Pack members care for the young when the mother goes hunting. Adults feed weaned pups regurgitated (re-GER-jih-tate-ed) food, partly digested food kept in the stomach and brought up to the mouth.

Gray wolves and people: Although humans have always felt threatened by wolves, no attack has ever been reported. In fact, wolves avoid human contact. Some hunters regard wolves as competitors for big game (wild animals hunted for sport).


Conservation status: In 1973, on the brink of extinction from extensive killing, gray wolves were placed under the protection of the newly enacted U.S. Endangered Species Act. They were subsequently reintroduced to the Yellowstone National Park. Some states established programs to protect them. Since then, the gray wolf populations have increased. In 2003, gray wolves (except those in the Southwest) were reclassified as Threatened, or likely to become extinct in the foreseeable future. The IUCN does not list the gray wolf as a threatened species worldwide. ∎

RED FOX (Vulpes vulpes): SPECIES ACCOUNTS

Physical characteristics: The largest of all foxes, the red fox is reddish brown with a white- or black-tipped bushy tail. It weighs 6 to 15 pounds (2.7 to 6.8 kilograms). The snout, backs of the ears, and the lower legs and feet are black. Sensitive, pointed ears can detect prey from 150 feet (45 meters) away. Sensitive whiskers guide the fox in inflicting a killing bite on the prey's body.


Geographic range: The most widely distributed of all canids, the red fox is found in the United States, Canada, Australia, Europe (except Iceland), and Asia.


Habitat: Red foxes prefer a mixture of woodlands and open areas. They thrive in the tundra and desert, where they prey on animals foraging for food at night. They live close to humans in farmlands, the suburbs, and cities, where rabbits, rodents, and garbage pits abound.


Diet: Red foxes prefer rodents but also feed on rabbits, squirrels, insects, earthworms, birds, and carrion. They eat fruits and human

leftovers. Foxes eat about 1 to 3 pounds (0.5 to 1.5 kilograms) of food a day. When full, they continue to hunt for prey, but unlike wolves who gorge themselves, foxes cache (store in a hidden place) excess food. They bury the food in a hole, occasionally digging it up, then reburying it.


Behavior and reproduction: Red foxes are crepuscular (kri-PUS-kyuh-lur; active at dawn and dusk) and nocturnal (active at night), timing their foraging habits with those of their prey. They live alone, except when breeding. Males and females pair off in late winter or early spring, producing five to thirteen kits. Fathers provide food to the family, and nonbreeding daughters or sisters may share the den and help in child rearing. Red foxes are playful creatures, engaging in games of chasing and mock fighting.


Red foxes and people: Red foxes are prized for their fur and for the sport of fox hunting. However, a love-hate relationship exists between foxes and humans. Some suburbanites treat them as pets, putting out food for them. Others detest them for stealing house pets and livestock.


Conservation status: The red fox is not a threatened species. ∎

MANED WOLF (Chrysocyon brachyurus): SPECIES ACCOUNTS

Physical characteristics: The maned wolf has a long, black mane on its neck down to the middle of its back. The body is golden-red, and the snout and legs are black. The throat, tail tip, and ears have white markings. Very long legs allow for a better view over the tall grasses of its habitat and for high leaps to catch prey and hold it down. It covers great distances, moving the legs of each side of its body together, unlike other canids that move their legs alternately. It weighs 44 to 51 pounds (20 to 23 kilograms) with a shoulder height of 29 to 34 inches (74 to 87 centimeters).

Geographic range: Maned wolves are found in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay.


Habitat: Maned wolves live in grassland that supports small mammals, reptiles, and insects. They also occupy scrub forests, home to a tomato-like fruit that makes up half of their diet.


Diet: A tomato-like fruit, Solanum lycocarpum, which comprises 50 percent of the wolf's diet, protects it against giant kidney worm infestation. Although known for preying on domestic chickens, maned wolves prefer rodents, rabbits, and armadillos. Occasionally, they eat birds, lizards, and seasonal fruits, such as guavas and bananas.


Behavior and reproduction: Maned wolves are the most solitary of the canids. Males and females only get together to breed, producing a litter of two to six pups. They normally hunt at night. White markings on the throat, tail tip, and on the large, erect ears serve as visual signals at a distance. They further communicate using harsh barks. Quite territorial, they use urine and feces as boundary markings.

Maned wolves and people: The fur of the maned wolf is worn in South America as a good luck charm. Native Brazilians harvest the right eye from live wolves, believed to bring luck with women and gambling.


Conservation status: The maned wolf is listed as Endangered in its native countries due to habitat loss to overgrazing by cattle and deforestation, particularly for soybean farming. The IUCN classifies the maned wolf as Near Threatened. ∎

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Books:

Alderton, David. Foxes, Wolves and Wild Dogs of the World. New York: Facts on File, 2004.

Gibson, Nancy. Wolves. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press, 2002.

Greenaway, Theresa. The Secret World of Wolves, Wild Dogs, and Foxes. Austin, TX: Raintree Steck-Vaughn Publishers, 2001.

Rogers, Lesley J., and Gisela Kaplan. Spirit of the Wild Dog: The World of Wolves, Coyotes, Foxes, Jackals, & Dingoes. Crows Nest, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2003.

Sillero-Zubiri, Claudio, David W. Macdonald, and the IUCN/SSC Canid Specialist Group. "Portrait of an Endangered Species." In The Ethiopian Wolf—Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN, 1997.

Periodicals:

Henry, J. David. "Spirit of the Tundra (Arctic and Red Foxes)." Natural History (December 1998): 60–65.

Larivière, Serge, and Maria Pasitschniak-Arts. "Vulpes vulpes." Mammalian Species 537 (December 27, 1996): 1–11.

Robbins, Jim. "Weaving a New Web: Wolves Change an Ecosystem." 27, no. 3 (1998). Online at http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Publications/ZooGoer/1998/3/weavingwolfweb.cfm (accessed on July 6, 2004)

Stewart, Doug. "Caught in a Dog Fight." National Wildlife (June–July 1999): 34–39.

Walker, Tom. "The Shadow Knows (In Alaska's Far North, the Arctic Fox Shares its Secrets of Survival)." National Wildlife (February/March 2002): 46–53.

Web sites:

"Canid Species Accounts." IUCN/SSC Canid Specialist Group. http://www.canids.org/SPPACCTS/sppaccts.htm (accessed July 6, 2004).

"Delisting a Species." U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services. http://endangered.fws.gov/recovery/delisting.pdf (accessed July 6, 2004).

Gorog, Antonia. "Chrysocyon brachyurus (Maned Wolf)." Animal Diversity Web. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Chrysocyon_brachyurus.html (accessed July 6, 2004).

Hinrichsen, Don. "Wolves Around the World: The Global Status of the Gray Wolf." Defenders of Wildlife. http://www.defenders.org/publications/wolvesarworld.pdf (accessed July 6, 2004).

Ives. Sarah. "Wolves Reshape Yellowstone National Park." National Geographic Kids News.http://news.nationalgeographic.com/kids/2004/03/wolvesyellowstone.html (accessed July 6, 2004).

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Dogs, Wolves, Coyotes, Jackals, and Foxes: Canidae

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