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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Creature Feature: Domestic Silver Fox.

A lot of people do not keep an open mind towards new things. This goes double if the new thing in question just so happens to be an animal. Every single time I look at possibly keeping a strange mammal as a pet, I see some legitimate advice always followed by a recommendation to get a cat or dog."Why not get a cat or dog?" is not a valid answer to everything. Seriously, just asking whether one should have a raccoon or not proves that the inquirer is a more responsible pet owner than nine out of ten dog owners who bought a puppy on impulse.

People who ask about exotic pets have likely already looked into cats and dogs. If they wanted to get a cat or dog, they would get a cat or dog. They are not looking for something that everybody else already has. There are a fair amount of mammals that are perfectly well-domesticated and would make better recommendations than this cat and dog BS, such as ferrets, cows in a variety of sizes (that one comes with the added bonus of free milk!), horses, pigs, various rodents, and foxes.

 

Yes, foxes. You heard about them on the breed entry and the special on Eevee. The domesticated silver foxes (Vulpes vulpes) of Russia really do deserve an entry all their own.

Foxes had been "domesticated" for a long time in the fur trade to begin with. "Domesticated," in its loosest sense, means able to breed in captivity.  There are problems with that simple definition. Tigers can breed in captivity; are they domesticated? Most people would say not. Something else had to happen to make animals like dogs "domesticated" and wolves not, even though both breed well in captivity.

 

In 1959, Dmitri Belyaev began working with the silver morph of the red fox (which looks more black than silver, but that's beside the point) in an attempt to determine what steps needed to be taken to turn a wild canid like a fox or wolf into a domestic canid like a dog. He focused on exactly one trait: Tameness. Only the tamest of the foxes were allowed to breed.

The results? Nothing short of amazing.

 

In the second generation alone (1962), the foxes began to show a genetic lack of aggression towards humans. Two generations (years) later, the foxes began wagging their tails like dogs and approaching humans of their own free will. In that same generation, the fox kits whimpered like puppies and allowed themselves to be petted and carried. Two more years later, the foxes were following humans and licking them.

From the SibFox site. Google it; you know you want to.
There were also a number of physical changes that showed up a few years after the behaviors were cemented into the foxes' psyches. In 1969, they developed two traits common to dogs and domesticated animals in general: Floppy puppy ears and piebaldism. The ears stay floppy for up to three months in the tame foxes. Piebaldism is a whole different can of worms, especially if one is not familiar with the term.

Piebaldism is a type of leucism rare in the wild, but very, VERY common in domesticated animals. In a nutshell, piebaldism describes any irregular white patches on an animal's body. This is often bred for an opposite look in captivity (i.e. more white than black). Holstein cows, Pinto horses, and Jack Russell Terriers are all examples of piebald mammals. It is so common in captivity and so very rare in the wild that this one morph is considered a sign of domesticity.


Makes ya wonder, doesn't it?

The silver fox project went on from 1959 to 1975; recently, it has run into financial problems. It is nonetheless noteworthy for showing the changes that must have occurred between wolves and domestic dogs in a relatively short time frame. People arguing that domestication took ages are full of it; selecting for tameness is enough to turn the wily fox into a domestic dog in just a few generations.

Want one? It is possible to get a real, genuine tame fox of your own for a hefty price at www.sibfox.com; it is also a ton of fun just to click around and see the results of selectively breeding for tameness. These foxes are tame, tame, tame.

Still think that only cats and dogs can make good pets? Then someone isn't doing the breeding right.

Tomorrow: That's a lotta fish.

2 comments:

  1. Please remove the second to last photo you have posted on this article. It is the property of http://sybilsden.com/ and we respectfully would like you to take it off your page.

    ReplyDelete
  2. please remove the picture of the silver fox with her head on the calculator.

    She is NOT a Russian fox. she if my fox.

    sybils den.

    ReplyDelete