Free Research Paper About Swift Foxes
Swift fox is a small Canid, approximately the size of a large house cat. It is a native of United States and Canada. It received its name from the early settlers, because of its agility and speed. It is the smallest member of the Canid family seen in North America.
Taxonomy: Swift fox belongs to the
Vulpes velox is the scientific name of swift fox. (Encyclopedia of Life 2015)
Description: Swift foxes are smaller than other foxes, and weight 1.8 to 3.0 kg on an average. The males are larger than females. The hair coat color varies with season. During winter, the hair coat is dark buffy and gray above. It has an orange tan color on the sides, legs and lower surface of the tail. The chest and belly have light buff to white color. Tip of the tail is black. Black patches are often seen on either side of the snot. During summer the coat becomes shorter, harsher and appears reddish. It has a body length of 80 cm and a height of 33 cm on an average. Tail is bushy and the length varies from 25-35 cm in adults. The ear length in adults varies from 5-7 cm. (Fieldguide.mt.gov 2015)
Genetic description: According to DNA analysis studies, kit foxes are the closest relative of swift foxes. The other closest relative is the arctic foxes.
Geographical range: Swift fox are not migratory in nature. They were originally seen in western Canada and across North America and Texas. In the 1930’s, swift foxes were expatriated from Canada. Later they were reintroduced through a captive breeding endeavor undertaken by a private organization in 1978. The population was expanded by captive breeding. Between 1983- 1997, 942 Swift Foxes were released in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan region, though most the original stock have perished, on the whole the effort was successful in lifting the status of swift fox in Canada from expatriated to endangered. According to latest estimates, 350 swift foxes were spotted in Southeast Alberta and Southwest Saskatchewan. The most abundant population of the globe is seen in North and South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, and southern portions of Alberta and Saskatchewan. (Fws.gov 2015)
Habitat: Swift foxes habitat, open grasslands that are less densely vegetated, and have short grass and mixed grass prairie. Common grasses seen in these regions are buffalo grass, blue stem and wire grass. These foxes live in underground burrows called dens. These dens are usually burrowed on high grounds, which have sandy soil, and a good view of the surrounding landscape. They dig their own burrows or burrows dug by other animals. Swift foxes are born in these dens. Adult swift foxes can be found resting in these burrows during periods of inactivity. They change the den sites multiple times during a year. These dens are burrowed 4 to 6 feet deep below the ground and can have as much as six entrances. Swift foxes avoid habitats that have creek drainages, greasewood vegetation, rocky terrain, and sandy clay soils. (Iucnredlist.org 2015)
Behavior: Swift foxes are primarily nocturnal. They spend most time of the day, in underground burrows. Males are predominantly nocturnal, while females with pups could be found hunting from dawn to dusk. Swift foxes have high territorial behavior. An adult swift fox frequents a core area of approximately 0.85 square miles. Other same sex swift foxes are excluded from this area. However when food is scares or during breeding season, the swift fox moves out of its core area, and enters other areas. This extended area, beyond its core area is called the home range. The home range of this species extends for 2.9 to 13.2 square miles. The home range of swift fox can overlap with other pairs of swift foxes. (Iucnredlist.org 2015)
Food: Swift foxes are omnivores and consume rats, mice, squirrels, rabbits, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and vegetation. The most common mammalian prey item is black-tailed prairie dogs and insect prey items included Orthoptera (grasshoppers) and Coleoptera (beetles). Swift foxes prey on 13 different mammalian species and six avian prey species.
Water: Though swift foxes can easily survive in semi arid conditions, where freshwater is often rare, their preys may require water for their survival. Swift foxes survive without water for weeks, just utilising the metabolic water derived from food. The temperature in the grassland prairies varies from -400C in winter to + 400C in summer. Swift foxes have a thermoregulatory behaviour. On cold sunny winters they rest at the entrance of the dens. When water is available they eat 210 Gms per day, while during scarcity they eat 330 g per day. (Dark-Smiley & Keinath 2003)
Threats: Swift foxes face many dangers like: preyed by coyotes, trapping, poisoning, and hit by automobiles. Alteration of landscapes from sparsely vegetated grassland to densely vegetated tall trees, as a result of forest conservation activities can negatively impact the swift fox population. The prairie ecosystem is threatened by fire suppression and grazing by domestic and wild livestock , making it difficult for swift fox population to persist. Farmers use illegally poison like strychnine, zinc phosphides, etc. to protect their livestock from predation. Poisoning of swift foxes was banned in Canada in 1972. In many incidents of poisoning, swift foxes are accidental casualties and not the actual targets. The poison is usually targeted towards coyotes and is often accidentally taken by swift foxes. Zinc phosphide and sodium cyanide which are targeted towards rodents, also harms swift foxes.
During grasshopper outbreaks, landowners use insecticides to control them. Since grasshoppers form a major portion of the swift fox diet, during such outbreaks, they are poisoned by insecticides. (Dark-Smiley & Keinath 2003)
Breeding behavior: Swift foxes are mostly monogamous and mate for life. The mating pairs form in early winter. A male and female occupies a den together. Mating is more common during December to February. Swift foxes are monoestrus. Estrus is seen during the period between Decembers to February. Production of young foxes is directly proportional to the availability of prey. The gestation period is 51 days and 4-5 pups are produced per litter. Though both male and female parent play a role in raising children, male swift foxes have an important role in raising the children. Pups are weaned after 6 weeks. Only one litter is produced per year. Usually these mammals breed after the age of one. That is when they attain sexual maturity. (Fws.gov 2015)
Parasites and Disease: Physaloptera spp. and Dipylidium caninum are common gastrointestinal parasites. Coccidia, nematode and cestode infections can occur in swift foxes. Tick of Ixodes spp and fleas (Pulex irritants) are common ectoparasites infesting these animals. Juveniles are more susceptible to parasitic infections. Canine distemper virus is endemic among swift fox population. Swift foxes can acts as reservoir for rabies. Likewise Sylvatic plague, a flea transmitted disease, is endemic among swift fox population. (Registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca 2015)
Interspecies communication: There is a high degree of overlap in the dietary habit of coyotes and swift foxes. These species often share habitats. However coyotes preferably prey large mammals while swift foxes prey on small mammals. Despite this, an intense competition for food is seen between the two species. Coyotes have a selective advantage in this competition as a result of their large size and better strength. When the coyotes number increases, the swift fox number decreases. Coyotes are the major predators of swift foxes and have a significant impact on their population size. The home range of swift foxes overlaps with those of prairie dogs as well. Evidences indicate a strong overlap between the ecosystem of swift foxes and prairie dogs. (Dark-Smiley & Keinath 2003)
Conservation status: In Canada, swift foxes are considered endangered, while in U.S Red list they have ‘least concern” status. Swift foxes are indicators of intact grass land ecosystem. In Canada, majority of the swift fox population is seen within the boundaries of National Grassland Park. The swift foxes are protected under the Canada National Parks Act and Saskatchewan and Alberta Wildlife Acts. According to these acts; killing, harming, or harassing this animal is prohibited. The population management of swift foxes is done by monitoring and controlling predator population. Monitoring techniques include, swift fox scat DNA verification, scat deposition surveys, and photographing or identifying tracks at scent stations. Captive breeding and reintroduction is also another method of maintaining the population. (National Resources Conservation Services 2005; Stephens & Anderson 2015)
Habitat management: Habitat is an important limiting factor in swift fox conservation. Destruction of native grassland plains are important reasons for reduction in swift fox number. Fire, grazing by herbivores and climate change, are contributing factors to grassland destruction. Degraded land can be converted to grasslands, by manual measures. Site chosen for such conservation should be on high plains and widely open. The excess vegetation in these plains can be controlled by planned burning which can removes woody herbs. Rotational grazing and cultivating forages for livestock can prevent destruction of grasslands caused intense grazing activities. (National Resources Conservation Services 2005)
Economic importance: Swift foxes were never economically important. However pelt was harvested from 1, 17,025 swift foxes in Canada, between 1853 to 1877. The pelt is usually too small and of poor quality. (Resmer 1999)
Population trends: Latest estimates indicate that, there are close to 647 swift foxes in Canada, majority of which is seen between the Alberta-Saskatchewan and the Grasslands National Park. There is a increase in swift fox population by more than 130%, between 1996-2006. The sex ratio of swift foxes in Canada is 52 males: 48 females. (Worldwildlife.org 2015)
Adaptability: The opportunistic foraging strategy, use of dens for shelter and protection from predators are adaptation strategies seen in swift foxes. During extreme climate in the prairies, they thermo regulate and reduce water loss by adjusting their activity periods and by using burrow. Their foot pads are well insulated with fat pad and are almost entirely covered by fur. Swift Foxes are fast runners, and are able to reach speeds of 60 km/hr. They have slender skeleton and long legs, which are adapted for running. This trait helps them evade predators and hunt fast prey like lagomorphs. (Dark-Smiley & Keinath 2003)
Conclusion: Swift foxes are the smallest canids in North America. As their name suggest, they are fast and this is one of their unique trait. They are often used as emblem in the conservation of grasslands. They are capable of digging their own burrows and also expanding the burrows of other foxes. The swift fox’s diet consists mainly of small insects and mammals. Swift foxes are relatively benign to large livestock’s. Blood tribes of Canada, value the image and character of swift foxes. Their hair cut, apparel, ceremonies, dances, customs, and accompaniments, all have a touch of swift fox. Aboriginals associate certain spiritual importance to swift foxes. Habitat loss is one of the predominant reasons for decline in the swift fox population. Protection of the native short-grass prairies is necessary for their long-term existence. Swift foxes completely avoid other habitat. Most conservation programs aim at translocating animals to new habitat, with the aim of establishing a new population. The number of deaths is high during the acclimatization phase in the new habitat. The survival rate was indirectly proportional to the dispersion length from the area of introduction. Swift foxes are less cunning than other foxes. They are also not afraid of man. They are so unsuspicious of man and get easily trapped, and poisoned. Poisons aimed at killing coyotes, usually affect the swift fox population. Coyotes are the major predators of swift foxes. Being a native of US and Canada, swift foxes are identities of these countries. Thus these two nations have a added responsibility of protecting this species.
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Fieldguide.mt.gov. 2015. Swift Fox - Montana Field Guide [Internet]. [Internet]. [cited 2015 Mar 14]. Available from: http://fieldguide.mt.gov/speciesDetail.aspx?elcode=AMAJA03030
Fws.gov. 2015. Swift Fox [Internet]. [Internet]. [cited 2015 Mar 17]. Available from: http://www.fws.gov/northdakotafieldoffice/endspecies/species/swift_fox.htm
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National Resources Conservation Services. 2005. Swift Fox [Internet]. Washington: Wild Life Habitat Council; [cited 2015 Mar 17]. Available from: http://www.wildlifehc.org/new/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Swift-Fox.pdf
Registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca. 2015. Species Profile (Swift Fox) - Species at Risk Public Registry [Internet]. [Internet]. [cited 2015 Mar 14]. Available from: http://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/species/speciesDetails_e.cfm?sid=14
SSStephens R, Anderson S. 2015. Swift Fox (Vulpes velox): A Technical Conservation Assessment [Internet]. Wyoming: USDA Forest Service; [cited 2015 Mar 17]. Available from: http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/projects/scp/assessments/swiftfox.pdf
Worldwildlife.org. 2015. Swift Fox | Species | WWF [Internet]. [Internet]. [cited 2015 Mar 17]. Available from: https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/swift-fox