Foxes are a widespread member of the canid family, with many species thriving in various habitats around the globe. They're bound to have some interesting members of the genera. Most of us are used to seeing the red fox, which is the most widespread of all fox species, but the following species show the incredible diversity among these animals. Dare we say it, they make the red fox look, well, kind of boring!
This unusual fox species gets its name from its enormous bat-like ears. It needs these extra-large ears to locate its prey which is primarily insects — unlike many fox species. The vast majority of their diet is harvester termites, with other termite species, ants, beetles, grasshoppers, spiders and other invertebrates making up the remainder. Not only do these insects serve as food, but they also provide most of their water intake, as there is precious little extra water to be found in the dry grasslands and arid savannas of Africa where it lives. Along with their extra large ears, bat-eared foxes have evolved smaller teeth than their canid cousins because they don't need large teeth for catching mammalian prey.
Tibetan sand fox
While the bat-eared fox has unusually large ears, the Tibetan sand fox has an unusually large-looking head. This is mostly because its muzzle is particularly narrow, the rest of its head is broad, and it has quite a bit of thick fur surrounding the rest of its face. Its body is compact and its legs rather short, which all together give the animal an unusual appearance. This fox is found high in the Tibetan Plateau at elevations from 11,500 feet to 17,100 feet. It hunts Plateau pikas, along with other rodents, woolly hares and sometimes lizards. The video below shows the species' unusual shape as well as its hunting tactics.
This small and leggy species of fox can be found in areas of southern Africa, including South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Its preferred habitat ranges from open grassland plains to semi-desert scrub. It seeks shelter from the heat by resting in burrows during the day and becoming active during the cool night hours, though it can be spotted in the golden hours of dawn and dusk as well. Like many canid species, cape foxes mate for life and can rear offspring at any time of the year. However, the adults tend to forage alone, which means they aren't often spotted in pairs. The size of their ears are reminiscent of the bat-eared fox and of another adorable desert-dwelling fox species that also appears on this list.
Photo: Tambako The Jaguar [CC BY-ND 2.0]/Flickr
They say foxes are the most catlike of the dog species, and this couldn't be more true than with the crab-eating fox. This species is native to South America and is also called the forest fox and the wood fox because it ranges through not only savannas but also woodlands, subtropical forests and riparian forests. This species gets its name from its choice of prey, as it hunts crabs on muddy floodplains during the wet season. But this isn't the only thing it eats. It is somewhat opportunistic and will dine on anything from insects to rodents to birds.
Photo: http://www.birdphotos.com [CC BY 3.0]/Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Brian Gratwicke [CC BY 2.0]/Wikimedia Commons
The fennec fox looks like it jumped straight out of a cartoon, and its cute factor is off the charts. Like the cape fox, it is nocturnal, staying cool in its den during the heat of the day and hunting rodents, insects birds and other prey at night. This species is found in the desert of northern Africa. The extra large ears are not only useful for locating prey but are also an effective way to dissipate heat. The fennec fox is the smallest canid species in the world, weighing just 1.5-3.5 pounds and growing to just 9-16 inches long, with a tail that adds another 8 or so inches. The ears make up a substantial part of the body, growing between 3-6 inches long! They are the largest ears relative to body size of any of the foxes, even the bat-eared fox (and that's saying something!).
The saying "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed" comes to mind when you see the corsac fox. This fox can look very different depending on if it's wearing its short summer coat or its fluffy winter coat, as the photos below show. The corsac fox lives in the steppes and semi-desert of central and northeast Asia, which helps explain the extra thick winter coat. Unfortunately, that coat has also caught the attention of humans; a primary threat to the species is poaching for their coats. Their population numbers are known to fluctuate dramatically, sometimes dropping as much as 90 percent in some areas as a response to natural disasters, bad weather and so on. But they tend to recover quickly, which is why they are still considered a species of least concern by the IUCN, or International Union of Conservation of Nature.
Finally, we look not at a unique species but a unique coat color. The silver fox is a color variant of the red fox. They have extra melanin, making them darker in color, similar to the way a black leopard is simply a melanistic leopard. They can vary from being all black with just the signature white tip of the tail, to being a blue roan color to ashy grey. But whatever the shade, this color variant is prized by those in the fur trade. This preference within the fur trade has led the silver fox to be bred in captivity to the point of being domesticated. They are called domestic silver foxes or the Siberian fox. Indeed, the science experiment behind the domesticated foxes is one of the most fascinating experiments in domestication ever performed. Silver fox variants of course occur naturally in the wild, though it's very rare. In Canada, they comprise only about 8 percent of the red fox population, and tend to occur more in the northwestern regions.