Corsac fox

The corsac fox (Vulpes corsac), also known simply as a corsac, is a medium-sized fox found in steppes, semi-deserts and deserts in Central Asia, ranging into Mongolia and northeastern China. Since 2004, it has been classified as least concern by IUCN, but populations fluctuate significantly, and numbers can drop tenfold within a single year.[2]

It is also known as the steppe fox, and sometimes referred to as the "sand fox", but this terminology is confusing because two other species, the Tibetan sand fox and Rüppell's fox are also sometimes known by this name. The word "corsac" is derived from the Russian name for the animal, "korsák" (корса́к), derived ultimately from Turkic "karsak".[3] The corsac fox is threatened by hunting for the fur trade.

Corsac fox[1]
Vulpes corsac
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Vulpes
Species:
V. corsac
Binomial name
Vulpes corsac
Linnaeus, 1768
Corsac area
Corsac fox range

Description

The corsac fox is a medium-sized fox, with a head and body length of 45 to 65 cm (18 to 26 in), and a tail 19 to 35 cm (7.5 to 13.8 in) long. Adults weigh from 1.6 to 3.2 kilograms (3.5 to 7.1 lb). It has grey to yellowish fur over much of the body, with paler underparts and pale markings on the mouth, chin, and throat. During the winter, the coat becomes much thicker and silkier in texture, and is straw-grey in colour, with a darker line running down the back.[4]

For a fox, it has small teeth and a wide skull. One source claims that this species can climb trees and has been domesticated in the past.[5] It is reported to have keen eyesight and hearing and an acute sense of smell. It has a number of scent glands, some of which produce pungent odours,[6] although not as extreme as those found in some other Vulpes species. The glands are found in the anal region, above the base of the tail, and on the paws and cheeks.[4]

Corsac foxes are reported to bark during hunting or when threatening rivals, and to use higher pitch yelps or chirps as alarm calls or social greetings.[4]

Distribution and habitat

Corsac foxes live in the steppes and semidesert of central and northeast Asia. They are found throughout Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, and through all except the northernmost regions of Mongolia. In the south, their range extends into the more northern parts of Iran, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, and China, and they can also be found in neighbouring regions of Russia.[2]

Three subspecies are currently recognised:[4]

  • Vulpes corsac corsac - northern Kazakhstan, southern Siberia
  • V. c. kalmykorum - northern Uzbekistan, Caucasus
  • V. c. turkmenicus - southern Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, China, Mongolia, and neighbouring regions

These foxes inhabit open grassy steppes and semideserts, and avoid dense vegetation and mountainous regions.[2] True deserts with drifting sands are also avoided, as are snowfields more than about 15 cm (6 in) deep.[7] Corsac foxes generally stay far away from human disturbances.

Ecology and behavior

Fox---Vulpes-corsac---(Gentry)
Corsac fox in its summer coat

As an adaption to the arid climate in which they live, corsac foxes need little water to survive, obtaining most of the moisture they need from their food. Their diets consist mainly of insects and small rodents, such as voles, gerbils, jerboas, hamsters, and ground squirrels. They may also eat larger prey from time to time, including hares and pikas, and will scavenge for carrion and human refuse. Although predominantly carnivorous, they do occasionally eat fruit and other vegetation, especially when animal prey are scarce. Natural predators of corsac foxes include wolves, eagles, buzzards, and eagle-owls.[4]

Corsac foxes are nocturnal and nomadic hunters of the steppes. They do not have a defended territory, and unlike some foxes, will sometimes form packs. Because they cannot hunt in deep snow, they will either shelter in their dens during harsh weather, or, in the northern parts of their range, they may migrate up to 600 km (370 mi) south in the winter. They have been reported to follow herds of local antelope, relying on them to compress the snow as they pass.[4]

Their prey is often buried in caches.

Corsac foxes shelter in burrows from harsh weather and larger predators. Although they can dig their own dens, these are generally shallow, and they often take over the burrows of other animals, such as marmots, ground squirrels, or badgers. Dens may have several entrances, but are usually less than 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) deep.[4] The burrow is shared between the social packs, with several dens and connecting holes.

Corsac foxes are excellent climbers, but are rather slow runners and could be caught easily by a dog. While they are reported to be nocturnal in the wild, in captivity they are very active during the day. This can be explained by increasing human disturbances, causing them to become active at night to avoid humans.

Reproduction

The mating season starts in January and ends in March. Males will initially fight for access to females, but eventually establish a monogamous bond, and assist in the raising of their young. The mother initially creates a birthing den, which is sometimes shared with other pregnant females, but moves her young to new burrows several times after they are born.[4]

Typically, two to six young are born after a gestation period of 52 to 60 days, although cases of ten kits being born in a single litter have been reported. Newborn kits weigh around 60 g (2.1 oz), and have fluffy, light brown fur that turns yellowish as they age. They are born blind, and open their eyes at around two weeks of age; they begin to eat meat at four weeks, and emerge from the den shortly after. Corsac foxes reach sexual maturity within 9 to 10 months and reproduce in the second year of life.[7] They live up to 9 years in the wild.[4]

Evolution

The corsac fox is one species within a holarctic clade of foxes that also includes the red fox, the swift fox and the Arctic fox, all of which it resembles.[8] However, the closest related species to the corsac fox is probably the Tibetan sand fox.[9] The immediate ancestor of the corsac fox is believed to be the extinct species Vulpes praecorsac, which lived in central Europe during the early Pleistocene.[7] Fossils of corsac foxes date back to the mid-Pleistocene, and show the species once reached as far west as Switzerland,[4] and as far south as Crimea.[10]

Threats

The major threat posed to the corsac fox is poaching. They are slow runners and are easily caught by hunters, and their population has been reduced in areas where they have been heavily hunted for their fur. In the late 19th century, up to 10,000 foxes were killed annually for pelt trade. The general population remains healthy, however, as the corsac fox has proven to be able to withstand great hunting pressures, and their habitats remain intact due to the low population density in its range. Their other main threat is natural disasters, which can cause the numbers of foxes to drop 90% in some areas, but the population often recovers quickly. As of 2008, the corsac fox is listed as least concern in the IUCN Red List.

References

  1. ^ Wozencraft, W.C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 532–628. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
  2. ^ a b c d Poyarkov, A. & Ovsyanikov, N. (2008). "Vulpes corsac". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature.
  3. ^ Julie Pearsall, ed. (2002). Concise Oxford English Dictionary (10th ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 321. ISBN 978-0-19-860572-0.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Clark, H.O.; et al. (2009). "Vulpes corsac (Carnivora: Canidae)". Mammalian Species. 832: 1–8. doi:10.1644/832.1.
  5. ^ Firouz, Eskandar (14 October 2005). The Complete Fauna of Iran. I.B.Tauris. pp. 59–. ISBN 978-1-85043-946-2.
  6. ^ Shabadash, S.A.; Zelikina, T.I. (2002). "Detection of hepatoid glands and distinctive features of the hepatoid acinus". Biology Bulletin. 29 (6): 559–567. doi:10.1023/A:1021768025707.
  7. ^ a b c Poyarkov, A.; Ovsyanikov, N. (2004). Sillero-Zubiri, C.; M. Hoffmann; D. W. Macdonald, eds. Canids: foxes, wolves, jackals and dogs. Status survey and conservation action plan. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources/Species Survival Commission Canid Specialist Group. pp. 142–148.
  8. ^ Zrzavý, J.; Řicánková, R. (1999). "Phylogeny of Recent Canidae (Mammalia, Carnivora): relative reliability and utility of morphological and molecular datasets". Zoologica Scripta. 33 (4): 311–333. doi:10.1111/j.0300-3256.2004.00152.x.
  9. ^ Bininda-Emonds, O.R.P.; et al. (1999). "Building large trees by combining phylogenetic information: a complete phylogeny of the extant Carnivora (Mammalia)". Biological Reviews. 74 (2): 143–175. doi:10.1111/j.1469-185X.1999.tb00184.x.
  10. ^ Sommer, R.; Benecke, N. (2005). "Late-Pleistocene and early Holocene history of the canid fauna of Europe (Canidae)". Mammalian Biology. 70 (4): 227–241. doi:10.1016/j.mambio.2004.12.001.

External links

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Barsa-Kelmes Nature Reserve

Barsa-Kelmes Nature Reserve is a wildlife refuge on the former island of Barsa-Kelmes in Kyzylorda Region of Kazakhstan, in Central Asia.

It was founded in 1939. The island on which the reserve is situated is in the Aral Sea. Its territory is around 300 square kilometres. Some 250 species of plants constitute its flora. Its fauna numbers 56 species of animals, and includes, among others, the Transcaspian wild ass, goitered gazelle, corsac fox, and Eurasian wolf. There are 203 bird species in the area.

Canidae

The biological family Canidae

(from Latin, canis, “dog”) is a lineage of carnivorans that includes domestic dogs, wolves, coyotes, foxes, jackals, dingoes, and many other extant and extinct dog-like mammals. A member of this family is called a canid (, ).The cat-like feliforms and dog-like caniforms emerged within the Carnivoramorpha 43 million years before present. The caniforms included the fox-like genus Leptocyon whose various species existed from 34 million years ago (Mya) before branching 11.9 Mya into Vulpini (foxes) and Canini (canines).Canids are found on all continents, having arrived independently or accompanied human beings over extended periods of time. Canids vary in size from the 2-m-long (6 ft 7 in) gray wolf to the 24-cm-long (9.4 in) fennec fox. The body forms of canids are similar, typically having long muzzles, upright ears, teeth adapted for cracking bones and slicing flesh, long legs, and bushy tails. They are mostly social animals, living together in family units or small groups and behaving co-operatively. Typically, only the dominant pair in a group breeds, and a litter of young is reared annually in an underground den. Canids communicate by scent signals and vocalizations. They are very intelligent. One canid, the domestic dog, long ago entered into a partnership with humans and today remains one of the most widely kept domestic animals.

Eurasian Steppe

The Eurasian Steppe, also called the Great Steppe or the steppes, is the vast steppe ecoregion of Eurasia in the temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome. It stretches from Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova through Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Xinjiang, and Mongolia to Manchuria, with one major exclave, the Pannonian steppe or Puszta, located mostly in Hungary and partially in Serbia and Croatia.Since the Paleolithic age, the Steppe route has connected Eastern Europe, Central Asia, China, South Asia, and the Middle East economically, politically, and culturally through overland trade routes. The Steppe route is a predecessor not only of the Silk Road which developed during antiquity and the Middle Ages, but also of the Eurasian Land Bridge in the modern era. It has been home to nomadic empires and many large tribal confederations and ancient states throughout history, such as the Xiongnu, Scythia, Cimmeria, Sarmatia, Hunnic Empire, Chorasmia, Transoxiana, Sogdiana, Xianbei, Mongols, and Göktürk Khaganate.

Fennec fox

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Rüppell's fox

Rüppell's fox (Vulpes rueppellii), also spelled Rueppell's fox, is a species of fox living in North Africa, the Middle East, and southwestern Asia. It is named after the German naturalist Eduard Rüppell. This fox is also called the sand fox, but this terminology is confusing because the corsac fox (V. corsac) and the Tibetan sand fox (V. ferrilata) are also known as "sand foxes".

Sand fox

Sand fox can refer to any of these animal species:

Corsac fox

Fennec fox

Rüppell's fox

Tibetan sand fox

Tibetan sand fox

The Tibetan sand fox (Vulpes ferrilata) is a species of true fox endemic to the high Tibetan Plateau, Ladakh plateau, Nepal, China, Sikkim, and Bhutan, up to altitudes of about 5300 m. It is classed as of "least concern" for extinction by the IUCN, on account of its widespread range in the Tibetan Plateau's steppes and semi-deserts.

It is sometimes referred to as the Tibetan fox, or simply as the sand fox, but this terminology is confusing because the corsac fox (Vulpes corsac), which lives in arid environments north and west of the Tibetan Plateau, is often called the "sand fox" or "Tibetan fox" as well. The Rüppell's fox (Vulpes rueppellii) is also known as the "sand fox".

Vulpes

Vulpes is a genus of the Canidae. The members of this genus are colloquially referred to as true foxes, meaning they form a proper clade. The word "fox" occurs on the common names of species. True foxes are distinguished from members of the genus Canis, such as dogs, wolves, coyotes, and jackals, by their smaller size (5–11 kg) and flatter skulls. They have black, triangular markings between their eyes and noses, and the tips of their tails are often a different color from the rest of their pelts. The typical lifespan for this genus is between two and four years, but can reach up to a decade.For animals commonly known as "foxes", but which are not true foxes, see Fox#Classification.

Extant Carnivora species

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