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Posts Tagged ‘red fox’

Just a fox on a leash

Clive out for a snowy stroll.

clive on a leash

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snuggly clive

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clive being playful

So when we had Clive out today he urinated a few times outdoors, including up against a tree trunk of one the silver maples in front of the house.

I made dinner this evening, and we had a boarding client who was coming to pick up her dog. Jenna took the client dog out for one last good walk about an hour after the sun set.

She came running back in the house telling me that she could smell red fox urine very strongly, and after careful examination, we noticed red fox tracks coming from across the road into our front lawn.

Clive is never taken near the road. He attracts too much unwanted attention, and our local conservation officer doesn’t like getting calls about a fox he knows is perfectly permitted and licensed.  Plus, Clive could get spooked and pull his leash loose, and he would probably run into the road and be hit by a car.

So what happened was that a dog fox in the neighborhood caught wind of Clive’s markings around the silver maples.  Last summer, I smelled where a red fox had urinated on one of these trees, as did every single one of our dogs, so I knew they were in the area. But now that we have a tame young male fox, the local breeding male fox is less than impressed with the young upstart leaving those markings on turf.

Clive is attracting the attention of the neighbors. My guess is we’re going to see lots more of their sign and maybe catch a glimpse of them as the late winter red fox mating season winds up.

I doubt that any of the local reds are cross foxes. All the ones I’ve seen in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania have been the normal phase reds. But the foxes don’t know what color they are. They just operate by their nose and their base instincts.

Clive can never go wild. He’s from a long line of fur farmed foxes, and if he were to be released, he’s so friendly with people that he’d probably be suspected of being rabid and killed on sight.

So here is another aspect of owning a tame fox. The local red foxes don’t really care that much for the tame ones, and virtually everyone in the continental US lives near red foxes. If you bring a tame one into your home, you will be upsetting the locals, and I don’t just mean your human neighbors either.

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Snowy face fox

Clive likes the snow!

snow face clive

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loggerhead sea turtle hatching

Recently, I’ve been using this space to play around with the fuzziness of “species.” Hundreds of species concepts exist, and because different researchers have somewhat different perspectives, you will sometimes get real conflicts about whether something is a species or a mere subspecies.

In canids, we get caught up in species discussions that are about what really amounts to very little genetic variation. For example, red wolves, Eastern wolves, gray wolves, dogs, dingoes and coyotes are all lineages that have only radiated in the past 50,000 or so years.

By contrast Old World and North American red foxes, including the ones allegedly derived by those set out by English colonists in the seventeenth and eighteenth, last shared a common ancestor 400,000 years ago.  This finding means that we probably should regard the red fox of North America as Vulpes fulva.

But 400,000 years of divergence is nothing compared to the 3 million years estimated for the Indo-Pacifica and Atlantic-Mediterranean populations of loggerhead sea turtle. There has been some gene flow between the populations. Matrilines have flipped around South Africa, once 250,000 years ago and an once 12,000 years ago.

So researchers who specialize in wolf-like canids are debating over very small genetic differences and relatively recent divergence times.  Red fox researchers are only just now realizing that there are likely two species in what was once thought to be a Holarctic species. And those specializing in loggerhead sea turtles don’t really care that their species has such a deep genetic difference.  The occasional gene flows between populations are enough for them to recognize only one species of loggerhead sea turtle.

This problem gets more interesting when we start talking about “living fossil species.” Take this article on Futurity.org, which is entitled “Evolution Hasn’t Revamped Alligators in 8 Million Years.” This article discusses the findings of some paleontologists at the University of Florida, who have found 8-million-year-old alligator fossils in North America, and they are remarkably similar to the ones we have today.

One of the researchers is quoted in the article says,”We were surprised to find fossil alligators from this deep in time that actually belong to the living species, rather than an extinct one.”

I would be just a hair more careful in my language. Although one can certainly see that these ancient alligators looked and probably behaved very much like the current species, 8 million years is a long time. I doubt that current alligators and those from that time could even interbreed if they encountered each other today. From a biological species perspective, it makes little sense to call them the same species, but from a paleontological perspective, it makes more sense, simply because paleontology is more interested in morphology and ecology over the entire time a population has existed.

So yes, “species” is a nebulous concept, and that is a good thing.  It makes some legal aspects with conservation difficult, because we have an Endangered Species Act that is about a hard and fast definition of a taxonomic entity.  In reality, the whole nebulous side makes for interesting levels of inquiry. If the Neo-Darwinian synthesis correctly describes the origin of biodiversity, then we would expect these discussions and debates to be commonplace.

They certainly are quite common in taxonomy and systematics. They probably always will be. Part of what defines a species are the biases of the classifier, which can often be contradictory.

For example, I have no problem with the new taxonomy of wildcats that posits the European wildcat into a different species than the Near Eastern/North African species. However, I disagree with the position of the domestic cat, which derives fro the Near Eastern/North African species, as its own unique species.

That bias may come from the simple fact that I am more familiar with domestic dog taxonomy, and I have come to accept that domestic dogs are best classified as a divergent form of gray wolf. If the domestic cat derived from its wild ancestor much more recently than the dog derived from its wild ancestor, why would it make any sense to classify the domestic cat as its own species?

So in zoology, we have all these different perspectives on how to classify species. Specialists in sea turtles are able to tolerate a genetically quite divergent species, while experts in wolf-like canids will debate over much more recently divergent lineages. These researchers really don’t talk to each about their ideas.  Indeed, the only time loggerhead sea turtle researchers worry about what specialists on the wolf-like canid side are doing is when they need to figure out how to stop coyotes from destroying the turtles’ nests. But they don’t need to know the complexity of the systematics to find an answer.

However, it is amazing how different specialists come to tolerate variation within one species. That nebulous nature of the various species concepts makes for some interesting variations on what specialists accept as normal.

Specialists often have very different ideas in mind, depending upon what they are used to, and I find it beautiful, even if it a bit confusing at times.

 

 

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Clive enjoyed his snowy walk this morning.

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Just a fox on a lead in a snowy land.

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