Posts Tagged ‘fennec fox’

There are two basic reasons:

The first is that fennec foxes don’t have the same musk glands as other vulpine foxes.

That’s actually quite a plus.  Other foxes– especially red foxes– are known for producing an odor that smells something like that of a skunk.

Fennecs don’t produce that odor.

The other is that fennecs live in packs.

They don’t live in packs to hunt larger prey, but their family groups have essentially the same dynamics as a wolf pack.

A wolf pack is based upon a mated pair that have an intense pair bond, and virtually all the other animals in the pack are their grown offspring, which stay behind to take care of their younger brothers and sisters.

This same dynamic exists with fennec foxes.

With more than two adults to forage over the desert, the young fennec kits get more attention and more food than they would get if only their mother and father were caring for them.

Humans have already domesticated one dog species that has this particularly social arrangement.

It’s actually been suggested that reason why humans domesticated wolves so easily is that both humans and wolves have similar social arrangements. Both wolves and humans may have recognized as similarity in this regard, and the two species were able to form very close relationships.

Maybe something similar could happen with fennecs.

It’s certainly true that most fennecs in captivity today are derived from ancestors that were dug out of dens.

In North Africa, people have kept pet fennecs for centuries, but it’s been only in the past few decades that anyone thought of keeping them in the West.

They are still wild animals. Not all individuals have docile temperaments, even when bottle-raised.

But it seems to me that as these animals become a bit more established in the pet trade, there will be attempts to breed them with more docile temperaments.

Although we have domesticated populations of red and arctic fox, these animals are not widely available on the pet market (for the reasons I mentioned earlier).

But fennecs could become the second canid species to become established as a domestic animals.

All it will take is a large enough gene pool of captive individuals and a concerted effort to selectively breed them to be suitable pets.

This may sound a bit far-fetched, but when I was a child, it was impossible to buy golden hamsters– even those with fancy colorations and coat lengths– that were naturally disposed to be tame.

All of the hamsters I owned bit me at least once, and most bit at least once a month.

Today, you can go to a pet store and buy hamsters that have been selected for “low reactivity.”

Hamsters have been bred away from the grumpy little things that they are in the wild.

And what’s more, pet golden hamsters derive from only a single litter that was captured near Aleppo, Syria, in 1930.

They are perhaps the most inbred of all domestic animals, but even though they are inbred, they have been able to produce just enough genetic variation to produce unique coat lengths and colors and just enough variation in temperament to produce very gentle strains.

Captive fennec foxes have a broader genetic base than golden hamsters, so it may be possible to begin another canid domestication process.

We’ve done it before.

We can do it again.







Read Full Post »

Fennec foxes are not the ancestors of Chihuahuas. If you believe this, you’ll believe anything.

As we’ve looked more closely at dog DNA and compared it to other Canid species, a very consistent fact has been confirmed time and again.

Domestic dogs are very closely related to Eurasian wolves.

Most of the genetic literature on dog origins is hotly contested.

But the ancestral species is not.

Dog DNA is wolf DNA.

It may be  that the wolf is the sole ancestor of the domestic dog.

However, there are four species that are chemically interfertile with each other.

The dog and wolf species, Canis lupus, has produced fertile hybrids with Ethiopian wolves (Canis simensis), golden jackals (Canis aureus), and the coyote (Canis latrans).  Dingoes and New Guinea singing dogs (which should be called “New Guinea dingoes”) are feral landraces of domestic dogs and belong to the dog and wolf species.   We know that all of these animals are chemically interfertile only thorugh circumstantial evidence. Because dogs are derived from wolves and have mated with Ethiopian wolves and produced fertile offspring, we know they all can. Ethiopian wolves are the most distantly related species of the interfertile Canis from the dog and wolf species. If they can interbreed and produce fertile offspring, then they all can.

Thus far, no one has found any genetic markers in domestic dogs from any of these other interfertile species. They might be there. In fact, they likely are.

But any genetic material found from these species is very likely to be trivial.

The only dogs that are known to have the blood of species other than wolves in them are things like the Sulimov dogs, which have golden jackal blood in them, and the intentionally and accidentally bred coydogs.

We might even find genetic material dire wolf or other extinct Canis species in domestic dogs, especially if we’re looking at DNA samples from ancient dogs. (There is some evidence that dire wolves were domesticated by the Clovis people.)

But none of these facts would change what the primary ancestor of the domestic dog is.

Their DNA is overwhelming the same as Eurasian wolves.

Thus, we should think of dogs as being domesticated wolves.

That’s what the evidence shows. One can split hairs and say that dogs have a different ecological niche than wolves and classify them as their own species– which is classically Canis familiaris. But the phylogeny of Canis familiaris stems so closely and so directly from Canis lupus that it makes more sense to call them Canis lupus familiaris.

But for whatever reason, these facts are rejected everywhere.

And not just in fringe publications or on e-mail lists where lots of lunatic “experts” like to hang out.

Perhaps the most recent author of any authority to make claims that domestic dogs are derived from multiple species is Stanley Coren.

In The Intelligence of Dogs, Coren contends that a wide variety of species played a role in developing the domestic dog.   He repeats the falsehood that basenjis and Rhodesian ridgebacks are derived from the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus), even though this animal has never interbred with a domestic dog and probably cannot.  And even if it could, the offspring would likely be sterile, as we’ve seen when silver phase red foxes have been bred to blue phase arctic foxes.

Coren’s book came out in the mid-90’s, and we’ve since learned many thing about dog origins since then. However, Coren repeated the same claim that basenjis were derived from African wild dog in How to Speak Dog, which came out in 2001.

By that time, I don’t think anyone was seriously considering the African wild dog as a potential ancestor to any domestic dog breed. In fact, by that time, there were moves among conservationists working to save this species to change the common name for this species. Calling them “African wild dogs” was causing lots of confusion. People were considering them feral dogs, and in some areas, they were being killed as an invasive species.  The truth is that they are likely a descendant of an early wolf-like Canis relative– Xenocyon lycaonoides–  that once roamed over most of Africa and Eurasia.  The African wild dog and the dhole maybe the surviving descendants of this early wolf-like species.

Coren also claims that jackals are an ancestor of domestic dogs. But the phylogenetic tree that was drawn from sequencing the dog genome revealed that jackals are not monophyletic. Golden jackals are in a clade with wolves/dogs, coyotes, and Ethiopian wolves. The other two species of jackal– the black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas) and side-striped jackal (Canis adustus)– are even more distantly related to the clade that includes wolves/dogs, coyotes, and golden jackals than the dhole and African wild dog are.

These two jackals cannot cross with dogs. Lots of people claim they can and will often point to domestic dogs in Africa with jackal-like features. Those dogs are not evidence of cross-breeding. No one has confirmed a black-backed jackal/dog hybrid with any DNA test.

These hybrids exist only in urban legends.

But if these memes won’t die even with experts like Stanley Coren, they have a lot of legs among the laypeople.

If you want to see what I mean, check out the comments on my post about why Chihuahuas can’t be derived from fennec foxes (Vulpes zerda).  No, they can’t be– even though they look so much alike!

Here are some gems:

I’d be interested to know what kind of “research” Claire was engaged in. My guess is she was playing with Google, and looking up romantic breed origin myths. That’s not really research.

I answered Claire that Chihuahuas and other small breeds have a gene that makes them small, which is very closely related to a smallness gene that is found in Middle Eastern wolves. One subspecies of Middle Eastern wolf, the Arabian wolf (C. l. arabs) is often quite small, sometimes weighing only 25 pounds.

As I noted earlier in this post, no one has found any genetic markers or genes from other species in domestic dogs, and what’s more, they’d have to come from species with which dogs can interbreed.  Dogs cannot interbreed with any kind of fox in the genus Vulpes.  If arctic and red foxes produce only sterile offspring when hybridized, the chances of them ever being able to breed with anything as distantly related as a dog have to be a zero percent.

Then comes Phoebe. Phoebe tries to through God at me.

Phoebe appears to be functionally illiterate. The study I quoted came out in 2010, not 1993.

There are no proven facts that Chihuahuas are derived from anything other than wolves. All the evidence shows they are toy dogs, and at least with AKC Chihuahuas, they are primarily derived from European dogs.

The origin and ancestry of Chihuahuas is not a theological question. It is not a matter of belief or opinion. It is a hypothesis that we can test empirically. And when we test these hypotheses, their results are not determined by the belief of the majority.

If the majority of Chihuahua owners think their dogs are derived from fennec foxes, this does not make them correct.

If the evidence shows them to be derived from wolves, then the majority Chihuahua owners are wrong.

And then there is Cindy, who just quotes some website. Everything on the internet is true, right?

Yeah. That website totally falsifies all the peer-reviewed papers that show that Chihuahuas are derived from wolves!

But the final one is the best one!

Murray Richardson seems to think lots of bizarre things about dog taxonomy!

Almost everything he claims to be fact in that comment is false.

Chihuahuas have unusual teeth because they are brachycephalic. They don’t have rooms in their mouths for all their teeth. They would have normal dog dentition if they had normal mouths. Strike one!

Chihuahuas and all dogs have round pupils, as do wolves. Vulpine foxes, like fennec foxes, have cat-like pupils. Swing and a miss!

No North American wild fox has any dog DNA. That “fact” was entirely rectally derived. Strike three! You’re out!

And Chihuahuas don’t need to drink water? WTF?!

When was the last time anyone crossed a fennec with a maltese?  I don’t know, but people do keep fennecs and dogs togehter. Fennecs are a relatively common exotic pet in the United States. I’ve never heard of any crossbreeding or if dogs even respond to a fennec vixen in heat. Domestic dogs don’t respond to red foxes in heat, so why would they respond to the fennec?

I hoped that Murray Richardson was just pulling my leg.

But I was wrong.

Because he came back with this canard.


Murray seems to believe that all wolves are very large animals, probably because the only ones he’s seen on TV have been of the several subspecies that are native to Canada, Alaska, and parts of the Northern US.

There actually are wolves that are much smaller than these rather famous subspecies. Arabian wolves, which have a similar smallness gene to small domestic dogs, aren’t like these animals at all. A 25-pound wolf can easily become a 3-pound Chihuahua through selective breeding.

After all, we’ve bred tiny horses through selective breeding, along with very small pigs. I don’t know of anyone making claims that these little animals have to have been derived from different ancestors.

Why can’t selective breeding produce super-small dogs?

I wonder what it is about Chihuahuas that makes people believe something so patently absurd.

But I think the unfortunate thing is that so many experts have given license to this nonsense.

Charles Darwin thought that several species begat the dog.

Charles Darwin lived long before we looked at DNA or even knew what it was.

He didn’t know everything.

He was not a religious prophet.

He was a scientist who was constrained to his time and place.

Konrad Lorenz also believed that most dogs were derived from jackals (which he called “aureus dogs”) and that others were derived from wolves (“lupus dogs.”)  He later dropped all of this nonsense after listening to the vocalizations of dogs, wolves, and golden jackals.

But by then, he’d already written several books in which he had posited this theory, and it had already been accepted by so many people that one can still run into people who will parrot this lupus and aureus dog dichotomy.

In the end, I think people still have a hard time accepting that dogs are derived from wolves.

Wolves are the only large predator that we have managed to domesticate.

It’s the only domestic animal that is derived from an ancestor that has occasionally considered humans to be prey.

Paradoxically, it’s also the domestic animal with which we have the most intimate relationships. Even cats don’t open themselves up to us in the profound ways dogs do.

How can we have an intimate relationship with an animal whose wild ancestors occasionally hunted humans?

That’s the cognitive block that keeps people from accepting the lupine origins of domestic dogs.

For much of human history, killing off wolves was seen as a great service to civilization.

It’s only been in the last 40 years that we’ve changed our views about wolves.

At the same time, breeding and training dogs that are useful for humanity has also been considered useful for civilization.

Accepting that the useful dog is derived from the much-maligned wolf is really quite difficult.

And that’s a major reason why people have such a hard time accepting that the wolf is ancestor of  rhe dog.

The other reason– and the one I think is driving these Chihuahua loons– is that owners of a particular dog breed like to believe that their dogs are super special.

Nothing makes them more super special than to say they derive from an entirely different wild ancestor than other dogs.

It becomes almost a theological discussion when trying to convince them of their error.

These sorts of theories and postulates should be severely ridiculed and debunked when one comes across them.

They are as bad as any kind of creationism, and they prevent any sort of rational discussion about what a dog actually is.

These theories are just mythology.

And there are already too many myths about dogs and what they are floating around.

These particular myths are relatively harmless, but accepting these really poorly thought-out theories means that one might be willing to accept ones that do result in lots of harm to the welfare of the animal.

The notion that Chihuahuas don’t need water because they are derived from fennec foxes really would have a welfare consequence.

I can just see all these Chihuahuas dying of hyperthermia or dehydration because their owners buy into that particular cock-and-bull story.

Facts are stubborn.

And just because you believe a falsehood with a lot of fervor doesn’t mean that it stops being a falsehood.

It just means you like to be wrong with a lot of fervor.

And you look like a fool!





Read Full Post »

Only $6,000!

It is a known fact that all chihuahuas derive from fennec foxes, but this one is part gray alien.

Just like the Starchild! It has alien DNA!


All the above was sarcasm. Except for the price of the dog, every single word above is false.

Here is the truth about the Starchild.

Here’s the truth about chihuahuas and fennec foxes.

There are some absolute fools who come on this post on semi-regular basis with so-called “evidence” to prove me wrong. It’s quite entertaining what some people want to believe about chihuahuas.

They are no more fennec fox than they are gray alien.

But that’s what I, a self-proclaimed defender of orthodoxy, want you to believe.

Read Full Post »

Rüppell's fox (Vulpes rueppelli) is the closest relative of the common red fox. This particular specimen, photographed in Egypt, really looks like its more widespread relative.

Although this particular fox looks very similar to the red foxes with which we are so familiar, this animal is actually something a bit different.

This fox is a Rüppell’s fox (Vulpes ruepelli). It is found in arid and semi-arid regions from Morocco to Southwestern Pakistan. And although it is a widely distributed species, it has not been widely studied.

It is a close relative of the red fox, but it is much smaller, weighing about 3.5 to 4 pound son average.

It looks like a hybrid between the fennec fox and the red fox, but that is the wrong way to think about them.

Instead, it is better to think of them as a descent from the ancestral red fox that evolved fennec fox adaptations in parallel in response to selection pressures that come from living in desert environment.

Smaller size means the animal can get by on very little food. Larger ears means the fox can better cool itself.

Now, if you really want to make things confusing, there are foxes native  to parts of North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.

They are typically on the smaller side, and they also tend to lack the black legs of the red foxes we know so well. Further, they have also evolved the larger ears that virtually all wild canids living in desert environments possess. Female red foxes of the Egyptian or Nile species are about the same size as the Rüppell’s fox.

So it can be a bit confusing tell the two species apart.

Egyptian or Nile red fox (Vulpes vulpes aegyptiaca). Not the larger ears and the lack of black legs.

Red foxes can live in arid environments, but they aren’t as well-adapted as Rüppell’s fox. So one is more likely to find red foxes areas with better access to water than Rüppell’s foxes. If it’s relatively large, it definitely a red fox, but unless one gets a good look at head, one might have a hard time telling them apart. Red foxes have longer, narrower muzzles, while Rüppell’s fox has more, apple-headed Chihuahua-esque appearance.

These desert foxes are actually quite hard to tell apart. In addition to the Rüppell’s fox, there are pale foxes (Vulpes pallida) of Africa’s Sahel region,  the well-known fennec fox (Vulpes zerda) ofNorth Africa and Egypt’s Sinai,  and Blanford’s fox (Vulpes cana) of Central and South Asia, Egypt’s Sinai, and the Arabian Peninsula.  Because they often share traits with other species, these foxes can be hard to tell apart. I think one of the reasons why people once thought that Fennecs were found throughout the Middle East is that people were confusing pale-colored Rüppell’s and native Blanford’s foxes with Fennecs. Blanford’s foxes are closely related to Fennecs, but they are quite a bit larger.

Here’s a pale colored Rüppell’s that might be mistaken for a Fennec:

The black marks under the eye give its identity away. If you could see the white tail tip, it would also tell you that you’re looking at a Rüppell’s . Fennecs have tawny streaks under their eyes. Fennes are still much smaller than this species, but a really large fennec might approach the size of a Rüppell’s vixen.

If one is south of Sahara in the Sahel, region and one comes across a small cream-colored fox. It probably isn’t a fennec,  If the ears are smaller and it’s somewhat larger than a fennec, it’s a pale fox.

Pale fox

This fox actually reminds me a lot of the San Joaquin kit foxes that are currently a protected subspecies in the US.

And then there is the Blanford’s fox, the closest relative of the fennec. Unlike the Fennec, this particular fox prefers to live in mountainous areas where it uses its superior climbing  and jumping talents to negotiate the sheerest cliffs. This fox is also found in Egypt’s Sinai and is also to  be found in other areas around Egypt’s Red Sea coast. It also exists in isolated populations on the Arabian Peninsula, but it is much more common in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkestan. These two distinct populations are disjointed, and they may have been separated for a long enough time for the Blanford’s fox actually to be two distinct species. No one has performed genetic studies to compare the two populations.

Blanford's fox.

This species, like all desert foxes from Africa and Middle East, are really quite poorly studied. We know Fennecs pretty well, but what we know about them comes from captive populations.   Fennecs are commonly bred as pets, but as far as I know, no one is keeping larger numbers of other desert foxes in captivity. So the exact nature of their populations in terms of genetics and behavior has not been explored with any detail.

Oh and remember how I said that one way you could tell a pale Rüppell’s fox from fennec is the white tail tip?  It doesn’t work for telling a Rüppell’s from a Blanford’s.  And yes, their populations do overlap in range. I don’t think Blanford’s foxes can be found outside of areas where one might encounter a Rüppell’s. Most Blanford’s foxes have black-tipped tails, and they are so heavily sabled that the local in some areas call them black foxes. But a certain percentage of Blanford’s  foxes are going to have white-tipped tails, though they aren’t as fully white as one might find on a Rüppell’s.

Blanford's fox with a white-tipped tail.

The way to tell these foxes apart is a bit harder. Generally, Rüppell’s foxes are going to be found in sandy desert environment, while Blanford’s foxes tend be in mountainous regions. But that’s still hit or miss. Blanford’s foxes are usually darker sabled and even grayish in color when compared to Rüppell’s foxes, and Blanford’s foxes have a dark stripe of hair that runs down their backs in much the same way one will find on a Urocyon “fox” in North America and Colombia and Venezuela. Blanford’s foxes also have shorter legs than Rüppell’s foxes, another trait they share with Urocyon.  Both Urocyon and Blanford’s foxes have adapted to climbing. It’s just the Urocyon climbs trees, and the Blanford’s fox climbs cliffs.

Rüppell’s and fennec foxes have fur covering their pads. Blanford’s fox does not. I can’t find any information on the pale fox’s foot pads at this time, but these fur-covered pads actually protect the fox’s feet from burning sands. Even though all of these foxes come out at night, the sun can make the sand particularly hot, and it may take a while for it to cool in the night.

The exact taxonomy of these foxes is still not clear.  It was commonly asserted that Rüppell’s foxes, Fennecs, and pale foxes were all closely related. But recent genetic evidence shows that Rüppell’s foxes are closely related to red foxes, and Blanford’s foxes are closely related to fennecs. No one knows where the pale fox fits– at all.

These foxes don’t live in the most stable countries in the world, so they are pretty hard to study. Blanford’s, Rüppell’s, and fennec foxes are not considered endangered, although they might be threatened regionally.  So there is no really big push to study them.

Pale foxes are a great unknown. We don’t know where they fit in terms of dog taxonomy. We don’t know if their numbers are stable or not. As far as most people are concerned, they are fennecs with short ears that happen to live in the Sahel.

That’s not what they are, of course.

Of course, the black hole that is fox biology isn’t limited to these species. The only foxes that have been widely studied in the literature are red and arctic foxes.  That’s probably because they have always been an important fur-bearers, and they have been bred in captivity so much that there are now hundreds of thousands them in captivity. Red foxes also live in developed countries, and one of the leading red fox researchers, David MacDonald, studied them near Oxford.  If only a major university existed in the Sahel, maybe we might know more about pale foxes.

Swift and kit foxes are also pretty well understood– although their taxonomic status is still being debated. The Urocyon “foxes” aren’t as well understood at all, except the island fox, which is often considered a distinct species, is pretty heavily studied.  They island fox is considered endangered on its native Channel Islands, and there have been many studies to determine its exact genetic make-up and behavioral ecology. Urocyon on the mainland hasn’t been studied very much at all. It’s never been a major fur-bearer, and because it usually lives in very dense forests, it is much harder to observe than red foxes.

Of course, the Urocyon isn’t actually a fox. It’s derives from a lineage that split off from the other living dogs 9-10 million years ago, and because it is so unique, it needs a lot more attention that it is currently getting. Urocyon would be pretty easy to study. They are found throughout the United States, but it’s just not a major priority in canid biology.

The other foxes have been studied even less. You don’t see many papers on corsac, Tibetan, corsac, or Bengal foxes.

Foxes just aren’t as charismatic as wolves and their close relatives are.

And they aren’t as amazingly bizarre as South American canids are. There is no fox that is quite as unique as a maned wolf or short-eared dog.

So we’ve have very little knowledge about the little desert foxes of the Middle East and North Africa. All we do know is that their taxonomic relationships are more complex than we might have assumed. The dog family has had a lot of parallel evolution, and classifying species based upon morphology is often a dubious undertaking.

The fact that  Rüppell’s foxes were once classified with fennecs really shows the limits of using comparative morphology to determine taxonomy within this family. And one should be careful of studies that use this methodology to determine taxonomy. Morphology must be compared with genetic data if it is ever to be accurate. Remember, it was  upon this methodology that red wolves wered claimed to have derived from the ancient Canis edwardii species, but it is now regarded as a recent hybrid between modern wolves and coyotes.  And at one time, it was once accepted that the bush dog of South America was actually a species of dwarf dhole. Dholes and bush dogs have similar dental features, so it was assumed that there was some relationship between them. Genetic evidence has shown that the bush dog’s closest relative is the maned wolf, which is looks nothing like a bush dog.

So if the taxonomy of these more charismatic canids is actually wrong, you can bet that our current classification of these more poorly understood species is probably erroneous.

These little foxes need more attention.  Wolves are known entities.

We need a David Mech of the sand foxes!

Read Full Post »

Fennec fox kits


So tiny!

Read Full Post »


Read Full Post »

In the dog family, we have managed to fully domesticate only two species: the domestic dog, which is a variant of Canis lupus, and the red fox. The former was domesticated at least 12,000 years ago, but it could have happened as early as 135,00o years before present. The derivatives of this domestication are quite widespread– and quite successful.  The other domestication is much more limited in scope. The Belyaev experiment with fur-farmed silver foxes in Siberia produced a strain of domesticated red foxes. These animals are widely studied, but  they have remained almost exclusively in Russia. They have now only recently become available as pets in this country.

However, a third species has the potential to be domesticated, and this domestication could become as widespread as the dog.

I’m talking about the fennec fox (Vulpes zerda).

It is native to the deserts of North Africa, where locals have occasionally kept them as pets.

However, in recent years keeping them as pets has become increasingly popular in the West.

They have certain advantages over other fox species that make them a candidate for domestication. They are more social than other foxes. Descriptions of them in the wild suggest a colonial breeding system, in which several pairs live near each other. Adults are known for their unusually playful behavior, which obviously could endear them to virtually any person.

They also lack the musk glands that other foxes possess. Red foxes are notoriously possessed of a rank odor. Fennecs don’t smell all skunky.

However, no intense selective breeding for tameness and docility has yet occurred in captive fennec fox populations.

That means they still have a lot of their wild behaviors. They don’t follow rules as dogs do, and they are nearly impossible to litter box train or housebreak. Of course, you wouldn’t want them running out in the yard without supervision. They would bolt as soon as they could.

But all of these issues do not seem to prevent people from wanting them as pets.

And that inevitably means that breeders of these animals will select for a more docile temperament and more trainability.

Selecting for those traits will have an effect upon the fennec phenotype– just as it has affected the dog and domestic red fox population. Selection for tameness alone in the Belyaev experiment produced foxes with very unique phenotypes. (Some looked a lot like border collies.)

One can only imagine what fennecs will look like with floppy ears and curled tails. I can see them having spots and flattened muzzles.

I can also see them eventually coming in different sizes.

And different coat types.

Which might make different strains.

Which we can only hope will be bred with such care that inbreeding and the popular sire effect don’t destroy them. The current registry system for captive fennecs is trying to ensure genetic diversity within the population.

Maybe in this dog domestication 2.0,  we won’t be as stupid.

Maybe we won’t waste the potential of this species as we did with domestic dogs.

Maybe we won’t get bizarre notions about blood purity or attach our own egos to the gene pools in a such a way that we stop caring about things like COI’s.


I just know that the fennec has a long way to go before it becomes a truly domesticated animal.

But I don’t doubt that one day it will be.

This will be our second chance with another dog species.

Let’s just hope we learn from our mistakes with domestic Canis lupus and do what’s right for the fennec.

I hope we learn.


I should reiterate that fennec foxes are a long way from reaching this level of domestication, but it seems likely that they will eventually attain this status.

It’s really a matter of time.

Within this species lies the potential for a new companion animal.

I may be attacked for promoting keeping a wild animal as a pet.

I’m not.

It just seems to me almost inevitable that the fennec is going to become a domestic animal.

There are too many of them in captivity, and the demand for them is only going to increase.

People like the idea of keeping wild dogs as pets.

It doesn’t matter that fennecs, as they exist in captivity now, are very much wild animals– with wild instincts and drives.

That’s why it’s probably not a good idea for us to try wolf domestication again.

A hundred pound wolf that is acting out its natural behavior is a dangerous thing.

A three pound fennec, though, is a bit less daunting.

A new domestication event could happen here.

It may even be inevitable.

And with that will come many possibilities.

And responsibilities.

Read Full Post »

How to catch a Fennec Fox


When you think of all the Fennec foxes that are currently kept as pets these days, keep in mind that their ancestors were probably caught in this fashion.

Read Full Post »

Could the Fennec fox be the Chihuahua's ancestor? I'm going to have to go with no on that one.

Could the Fennec fox be the Chihuahua's ancestor? I'm going to have to go with no on that one.

Dog breed origin stories are often like creation stories in religions. They are full of bad information, poor speculation, and it is difficult to find evidence any evidence that is not tautological or really bad hearsay. In golden retrievers, we have the Russian circus dog theory, which has been so clearly disproven, that I am not going to rehash it here. As near as I can tell, though, this has been the only folk story about breed origins that has been disproven. Although the FCI has raised doubts the Dalmatian actually came from Croatia when it claimed that it was the result of crossing pointers and setters with bull and terrier-types in eighteenth century in England, no one has disproven the Croatian dog story. The dachshund is said to have a history going all the way back to Ancient Egypt, where it is pictured on the walls of tomb of one of the pharaohs!

The Chihuahua dog has a similar dubious origins story. Supposedly this breed originated in Mexico as one of the Toltecs’ sacred animals.  It is supposedly a Native American dog, like the extinct Tahltan Bear Dog (which did look like a big Chihuahua). And the Pre-Columbian indigenous peoples of the Americas were major dog breeders, breeding all sorts of hairless dogs, wool dogs, and various types of dogs that could be either eaten or as beasts of burden. The Aztecs did have a little dog, called a Techichi, but analysis of the Chihuahua’s DNA suggests that it is of Old World origin, perhaps derived from some European toy dogs and maybe some toy terriers with apple heads.  Again, the original story has not yet been disproven, because the DNA analysis looked at only mitochondrial DNA, which only is inherited through the mother. So the fathers of the Chihuahua could have been the Techichi.

However, of all the bizarre theories I’ve read about a dog breed’s origins, this alternative theory about their origins takes the cake. Apparently, the author thinks that the Chihuahua got its small size from hybridization. Now, some theories about dog origins do include hybridization. Charles Darwin was a major proponent of the theory that dogs were derived from a medley of foxes, wolves, coyotes, jackals, and dingoes. In the twentieth century,  Konrad Lorenz  postulated that dogs were a mixture of wolf and golden jackal in Man Meets Dog   This hybridization gave rise to great genetic diversity and new shapes and forms could be brought out of the hybrid soup. However, this theory has been falsified. Dogs come from an East Asian population of wolves, and the wolf  is their primary and perhaps sole ancestor.

Now, the problem with this theory of Chihuahua origins is  that the author is arguing some things that do not comport with what we already know about world history and the development of all of these dog breeds.

First of all, the only hairless dogs that have ever been proven to exist are American in origin. Even the Chinese crested is American in origin, coming from a kennel where Xoloitzcuinli (Mexican Hairless dogs) were crossed with fuzzy lap dogs. China hadnothing to do with them.  The whole dog breeds coming from China to the New World thing is not supported by the evidence. The hairless dog stories are common in popular dog literature, but that part of the theory is still somewhat believable. Luckily, the author recognizes that hairless dogs are not related to Chihuahuas. However, it is possible that the dogs that Chihuahuas were crossed in to make the smaller Xolo dogs. The Xolo is indeed indigenous America breed, although it probably has European dogs in its mitochondrial DNA sequence.

Also, dogs come from East Asian wolves, not Turkey or Mesopotamia. That whole part of the theory is simply wrong. So the Chihuahua isn’t from the Middle East.

In addition, Chihuahuas are terrier-like, perhaps because they were stray dogs of terrier ancestry living in Northern Mexico, and when they were imported to England, they were probably bred with the toy white terrier and the toy Manchester terrier. That would give them a really strong terrier-like temperament.

But the part of the theory that is most wrong. Is that the Chihuaha is descended from the Fennec fox, incorrectly classified here in the old genus Fennecus, which has since been changed to Vulpes,  the same genus as the red fox.  The foxes in the Vulpes genus live in the Old World and North America, and none of them can interbreed with dogs, wolves, coyotes, jackals, and dingo/pariahs. They are simply another genus that has evolved differently from the dogs to the point that they cannot interbreed. A dog breeding with a Fennec is just not possible. None of the foxes in the old world ever could breed with a dog. The other foxes that cannot breed with dogs are the Arctic fox, which may actually be in the genus Vulpes because it can hybridize with red foxes and make infertile hybrids, and the grey foxes (the ancient canids of North America, Central America, and Venezuela and Colombia that can climb trees) cannot breed with them  either.

However, the South American canids are interesting, and it is the discussion of these wild dogs that causes a great deal of confusion. The Europeans called the smaller species of South American canids foxes. However, these foxes are actually more closely related to the dogs, wolves, coyotes, dingoes/pariahs, and jackals. Marion Schwarz in A History of Dogs in the Early Americas reportst that a crab-eating fox (Cerdocyon thous) may have crossbred with domestic dogs. This species is more closely related to dogs than foxes, and the some indigenous people have kept them as pets, allowing them the opportunity to breed with dogs. Again, this is an anecdote, but it makes more sense that this animal would cross with a dog than the fennec.

This South American "fox" may have interbred with domestic dogs. It is more closely related to dogs than the animals we in the Northern Hemishere think of as foxes.

This South American "fox" may have interbred with domestic dogs. It is more closely related to dogs than the animals we in the Northern Hemishere think of as foxes.

Messybeast reports some stories about dog and red fox hybrids, but there was never any DNA analysis ever performed on them. They were probably foxlike dogs like this one:


The volpino is named for its fox-like features. Volpe is Italian for fox, and volpino is the diminutive. It is derived from the Latin word for fox, vulpes, which is the scientific name for the genus of red foxes and their close relations. However, these dogs do not have fox ancestors.

So the fennec is not the ancestor the Chihuahua.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: