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The Channel Island fox (Urocyon littoralis) is found in six of the eight Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California. The Channel Island fox is commonly called the short-tailed fox, coast fox, island gray fox, Channel Islands gray fox, insular gray fox, and California Channel Islands fox. This species of fox has a further six subspecies that are quite distinct from each other, depending on the island they reside on. These Island foxes play a crucial part in the lives of those living on the Channel Islands. These foxes do not fear people, are ready to accept control, and can be tamed. This island fox species descended from gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) and belongs to the same genus as them, Urocyon. Interestingly, these foxes have a relatively small size as they exhibit what is known as 'the island effect'. These island foxes have a Near Threatened status as per the IUCN and they have been quite disturbed by human disturbances on the Channel Islands. They are not officially an endangered species of foxes, but they are at risk as they have no immunity against viral diseases and parasites due to the fact that they are isolated geographically. They are also preyed upon by golden eagles which has led to a significant decline in their populations. Four subspecies of the island fox used to be protected federally as endangered species and efforts were made in order to increase the fox population in the Channel Islands. It is believed that between 10,400-16,000 years ago, these island foxes traveled to the northern Channel Islands! As the three northern islands were once a single huge island, fox populations were initially only found on that island. These foxes were also kept as pets and used as hunting dogs by Native Americans in the Archipelago's southern islands. Keep reading to get to know a lot more about these Channel Island foxes!
Channel Island foxes are a group of foxes that have six fox subspecies that are each native to a particular Channel Island. Their evolution is different from each other. These subspecies are Urocyon littoralis catalinae (Santa Catalina Island fox), Urocyon littoralis santacruzae (Santa Cruz Island fox), Urocyon littoralis littoralis (San Miguel Island fox), Urocyon littoralis dickeyi (San Nicolas Island fox), Urocyon littoralis clementae (San Clemente Island fox), and Urocyon littoralis santarosae (Santa Rosa Island fox). These terrestrial fox subspecies are preyed upon by golden eagles.
Channel Island foxes are a member of the class Mammalia.
The Channel Island fox population size is 4001 mature foxes on the islands of southern California. These island fox populations are increasing even though it has a Near Threatened status. The San Miguel Island fox population is 400 mature foxes, 1500 foxes are found on Santa Catalina Island, Santa Rosa Islands have 280 mature foxes, the population in San Nicolas Island ranges between 600-800 of this species of island fox, the Santa Cruz Island fox population is 1,200 foxes with 880 mature foxes, and the San Clemente Island inhabits 1,100 foxes. A captive breeding program is run on Catalina Island by the Catalina Island Conservancy.
Channel Island foxes inhabit all major habitats of the island, from temperate grassland to chaparral, pine forests, temperate forests, sand dunes, oak woodlands, and beaches. Island foxes live in six California Channel Islands out of the total eight islands. These Islands, (San Nicolas Island, Santa Rosa Island, Santa Cruz Island, San Miguel Island, San Clemente Island, and Santa Catalina Island) are present in the USA, off the coast of southern California.
Island foxes are highly territorial and mark their territories with feces as well as urine. These terrestrial animals are nocturnal in nature so they are highly active at dusk and dawn. During the daytime in summer, these animals are very energetic. They are ready to accept instructions from humans and can be tamed easily. The Channel Island fox likes woody areas that have perennial fruit-bearing shrubs in the islands of the southern region of California.
Channel Island foxes do not tend to wander in packs. They are solitary and travel alone.
Channel Island foxes have a lifespan of four to six years. In captivity, these species of foxes can live as long as eight years!
Channel Island foxes mate for life (they are monogamous). The breeding period of these animals is from late February to early March, with the pair being spotted together often during this time. The gestation period of this species is as long as 50-63 days. A den is chosen as the birthing place where the females can give birth to one to five pups. The pups, also known as kits, are born blind with dark brown hair that is quite short. The kits leave the den in the early days of summer and these kits become mature at the age of 10 months. Interestingly, foxes from different islands can breed with each other, creating unique offspring.
They have been classified as Near Threatened as per the IUCN's Red List. In 2004, they were classified as an Endangered species but their population has gradually improved. To conserve these once-endangered animals, various measures have been taken. A captive breeding program is run on Catalina Island by the Catalina Island Conservancy to increase the population of these once-endangered foxes. Some foxes have had radio collars attached to them so that they and their kits can be tracked and located easily.
The Channel Island fox species is a relatively small fox species because it has adapted to the limited resources of the islands it inhabits. Its head possesses gray-colored fur that runs along the top and it has a reddish color on the sides of its body. The throat, the face's lower side, and belly fur are all white-colored. The upper part of their tail (dorsal side) possesses a black stripe. The male is larger in size when compared to the female. As compared to the gray fox, the coat is duller and darker. They shed anytime between August and November, only once a year. The kit has a darker coat as compared to its parents and is also quite wooly. Fox populations of San Nicolas Island and San Clemente Island have their black and gray fur replaced by a deep and sandy brown color.
These small animals are quite cute and are approximately the same size as a house cat. Their kits are especially cute with their wooly coat and darker coloration.
These animals communicate through visual, olfactory (smell), as well as auditory signals. To make another fox submit, a powerful and strong fox will stare, flatten its ears, and produce vocals. To establish dominance, they can be seen making distinct facial expressions and they may change their body posture. They are also known to bark and growl.
Their length ranges between 19-19.5 in (48-50 cm), with their shoulder height ranging between 4.5–6 in (11.4–15.2 cm), and their tail measuring 4.5-11.5 in (11.4-29.2 cm). The predatory golden eagles are four times the size of these Channel Island foxes! The largest specimen of these subspecies is found on Santa Catalina Island, whereas the smallest specimen of these subspecies is found on Santa Cruz Island.
This fox is a terrestrial animal that moves around on its own at night. However, the gray fox, its ancestor, has a top speed of 42 mph (67.5 kph). These incredible creatures can rotate their front paws inwards so as to aid them while they climb to hunt eggs and catch fruits.
It weighs between 2.2-6.2 lb (0.9-2.8 kg) with the male typically weighing heavier than the female.
A male is referred to as a 'reynard' or 'tod' whereas a female is referred to as a 'vixen'.
A baby is referred to as a 'kit', 'cub', or 'pup'.
They do not fear humans and can be tamed without much difficulty. However, they can be quite aggressive with each other, causing serious injuries, or even the death of another fox.
These creatures are sometimes owned and used as pets for the purpose of pest control. They are also semi-domesticated by humans. If kits are acquainted with people early on in their lives, then they can have a non-dangerous relationship with people.
The number of vertebrae in the fox's tail is different in each subspecies!
A female and male who have bred together, have territories that have common areas. They protect their territories by tipping and barking if an unknown fox crosses them.
This fox was once found on Anacapa Island but it was unable to survive here as there was no fresh water source. Santa Barbara Island faced a similar problem of not being habitable enough for these foxes. Santa Barbara Island is very small and has very limited sources of food, thus the island was unable to sustain the fox population.
Four subspecies of this fox were classified as endangered species and thus special efforts were made to conserve the endangered fox population. A captive breeding program is run on Catalina Island by the Catalina Island Conservancy to increase the population of these endangered foxes. In terms of why these foxes became endangered, it is believed that a canine distemper, caused by a raccoon or a dog, declined Channel Island fox populations significantly. Therefore, shortly after this, pets were banned from the Channel Islands National Park. The National Park Service also destroyed populations of feral pigs in the '90s which, unfortunately, then led to golden eagles preying more on Channel Island foxes. As a result, 40 golden eagles had to be caught and moved to the northern region of California.
The red fox is one of the most dangerous foxes in the world and it is found in North America, northern Africa, Europe, and Asia. The rarest fox is the Sierra Nevada fox.
Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other mammals from our swamp rabbit surprising facts or hoary bat facts pages.
You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable channel island fox coloring pages.
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