Kit fox (Vulpes macrotis)

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Kit fox fact file

Kit fox description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCarnivora
FamilyCanidae
GenusVulpes (1)

Kit foxes are among the smallest foxes of the Americas, with their most conspicuous characteristic being exceptionally large, closely set ears (5) (6), which help dissipate body heat in their desert environment (6). This fox has a slender body, long legs and a very bushy tail, which sticks straight out behind it and is tipped in black (6) (7). The colour of the coat varies with the season, ranging from rusty-tan to buff-grey in the summer, to silvery grey in the winter, with a whitish belly (7). The hair is dense between the footpads (5), giving the fox better traction on the sandy soil of its habitat, whilst also protecting the paws from the heat of the desert sand (6). The kit fox and the more easterly swift fox (Vulpes velox) were previously considered a single species, but more recent evidence implies the two species are distinct. Both foxes are sometimes called the swift fox, due to their ability to run as fast as 25 mph (40 km/h) for short distances (8).

Also known as
desert fox.
Spanish
Zorra Del Desierto, Zorra Norteña.
Size
Head-body length: 38-52 cm (2)
Tail length: 22-32 cm (2)
Weight
1.5-3 kg (2)
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Kit fox biology

Kit foxes are primarily monogamous, usually mating for life (5). Mating occurs from mid-December to January, with litters containing one to seven pups, which are born in special ‘pupping dens’ from mid-February to mid-March (5) (6). Pups are weaned and emerge from dens at about four weeks, and become independent at five to six months (5) (6). Young, usually females, may delay dispersal and stay in their home ranges to help raise the next litter (5). Individuals have been recorded to live up to seven years in the wild (5).

Kit foxes are usually active at night, but occasionally exhibit crepuscular behaviour (5). Mated pairs regularly share dens throughout the year (10). Multiple dens are used, which are either self-excavated or made from modified burrows of other animals, or human-made structures, such as culverts, abandoned pipes, and banks in roadbeds (11). Mainly solitary hunters, these foxes primarily consume rodents and rabbits, although birds, amphibians, carrion and small amounts of fruit may also be eaten (5).

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Kit fox range

Found only in western North America. In the United States, the kit fox’s distribution ranges from southern California to western Colorado and western Texas, north into southern Oregon and Idaho. In Mexico, it occurs across the Baja California Peninsula and across northern Sonora and Chihuahua to western Nuevo León, and south into northern Zacatecas (5).

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Kit fox habitat

The kit fox occupies arid and semi-arid regions (5), encompassing the open prairie/grassland plains of west-central North America into the drier semi-deserts and true deserts of the southwest United States (9). It is found at elevations ranging from 400 to 1,900 metres, although rugged terrain with slopes is generally avoided. Agricultural lands, particularly orchards, and even urban environments may also be inhabited (5).

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Kit fox status

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List. Eight subspecies are recognised: V. m. nevadensis, V. m. mutica, V. m. arsipus, V. m. devia, V. m. macrotis, V. m. neomexicana, V. m. tenuirostris, V. m. zinseri. The kit fox is considered Vulnerable in Mexico (3). In the United States, the San Joaquin kit fox (V. m. mutica) is federally classified as Endangered, and as Threatened by the state of California (4). In Oregon, the kit fox is classified as Endangered (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Kit fox threats

Predation, predominantly by coyotes (Canis latrans), is the main source of mortality for kit foxes and commonly accounts for over 75 percent of deaths (5). Other species that provide further competition and hunting pressures include the non-native red fox (Vulpes vulpes), the domestic dog (Canis familiaris), bobcat (Felis rufus), and large raptors (7). However, the most significant threat to the long-term survival of the kit fox is habitat conversion, mainly to agricultural land (5). In particular, the habitat of important kit fox populations in western and eastern Mexico is rapidly being converted to agricultural fields, while large numbers of roads are being built in eastern Mexico (5). These changes have caused displacement, direct and indirect mortalities, barriers to movement, and reduction of prey populations (7). In Mexico, kit foxes are occasionally sold illegally in the pet market, and limited harvesting for the fur trade still occurs in some U.S. states (5).

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Kit fox conservation

Kit foxes are found in numerous protected areas throughout their range. In Mexico, these include the Biosphere Reserves of El Vizcaino, Mapimi and El Pinacate, in the Area of Special Protection of Cuatro Ciénegas. In the U.S., the Endangered subspecies V. m. mutica occurs in the Carrizo Plain National Monument and various other federal, state, and private conservation lands. Poaching of the species is prohibited in Idaho, Oregon, and California, and the kit fox is a protected furbearer species (i.e., hunting is regulated) in Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. A recovery plan has been developed in the United States, which is currently being implemented for the San Joaquin subspecies (V. m. mutica). This plan includes protection of essential habitat, as well as demographic and ecological research. Captive foxes are held for display and educational purposes at facilities such as the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona; California Living Museum in Bakersfield, California; and several zoos, although no captive breeding efforts are being conducted at present (5). Fortunately, the kit fox is still considered relatively common in many parts of its range. Nevertheless, population size and trends need to be quantified and closely monitored to ensure that the species does not reach the Endangered status of the San Joaquin subspecies (V. m. mutica), which sadly faces a more perilous and uncertain future (1).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For further information on the kit fox see:

 

  • Sillero-Zubiri, C., Hoffman, M. and Macdonald, D.W. (2004) Canids: Foxes, Wolves, Jackals and Dog: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN Publications Services Unit, Cambridge. Available at:
    www.canids.org/species/Vulpes_macrotis.htm
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Authentication

Authenticated (15/09/08) by Claudio Sillero and Jed Murdoch, IUCN-SSC Canid Specialist Group.
http://www.canids.org and
http://www.wildcru.org

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Glossary

Crepuscular
To be active in the early dawn or twilight.
Monogamous
Mating with a single partner.
Polygyny
In animals, a pattern of mating in which a male has more than one female partner.
Subspecies
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2005)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  3. SEDESOL. (1994) Norma Oficial Mexicana NOM-059-ECOL-1994 que determina las especies y subespecies de flora y fauna silvestres terrestres y acuáticas en peligro de extinción, amenazadas, raras y las sujetas a protección especial, y que establece especificaciones para su protección. Diario Oficial de la Federación, 487(10): 2 - 60.
  4. US Fish and Wildlife Service. (1998) Recovery Plan for Upland Species of the San Joaquin Valley, California. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Portland, Oregon.
  5. Sillero-Zubiri, C., Hoffman, M. and Macdonald, D.W. (2004) Canids: Foxes, Wolves, Jackals and Dog: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN Publications Services Unit, Cambridge. Available at:
    http://www.canids.org/species/Vulpes_macrotis.htm
  6. Blue Planet Biomes (January, 2006)
    http://www.blueplanetbiomes.org/san_joachim_kit_fox.htm
  7. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office (January, 2006)
    http://www.fws.gov/sacramento/es/animal_spp_acct/sj_kit_fox.htm
  8. eNature (January, 2006)
    http://www.enature.com/flashcard/show_flash_card.asp?recordNumber=MA0020
  9. IUCN/SSC Canid Specialist Group (January, 2006)
    http://www.canids.org/species/Vulpes_macrotis.htm
  10. Sillero, C. (2008) Pers. comm.
  11. California State University, Stanislaus Endangered Species Recovery Program (January, 2006)
    http://esrp.csustan.edu/speciesprofiles/profile.php?sp=vuma
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Image credit

Close up of a kit fox  
Close up of a kit fox

© Erwin & Peggy Bauer / Auscape International

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