Saturday 23 July 2011

(I'm doing Science and) I'm Still Alive (an apology, and some science)

Heroo everyone. I have been pretty much lacking in posts lately. Everything has been dicks - i've been in a huge funk because of the constant rain, and the rain has been messing with my webnets, and that's just made things dicks, you know?

Just assuring everyone that I am still alive, and shopping. Yeah, I know. >> But...but...pratchett books! :3
Been busy talking to my family about the Big Move, and when not being in a funk, I've been such a mire of emotions - excited, scared, sad to go - and thats been affecting my already-messed thought processes.

SPEAKING of thought, while being still alive, I've been doing science! This occured yesterday; in a conversation about a lady on a news programme asking the government to "move on" bats (because of a hendra virus outbreak, flying foxes carry the hendra virus) near their town. Because, lady, these are bats. They're not gypsies or drunk teenagers. If they want to be somewhere, they will be, because they're hundreds of thousands of bats.
Also, they're fuckin' adorable.
Just as a side note, where I used to live, we had a LOT of flying foxes on account of all the mangoes. Once, one of them flew into a power line and exploded, cutting off power to half of Mullumbimby. It was rather funny, at the time. Because it was obviously a suicidal bat with a grudge against mankind. Or a werebat?

Anyway, a friend of mine made a point about how she doesn't understand about how people seem to think they can control nature. She said people on her side of Canada decided wolves were a no-go and put a bounty on them, and the people on the other side did the same with coyotes. This made them meet in the middle and interbreed.

Now, interbreeding species is going to happen. It's caused larger and somewhat more dangerous hybrids - or, you know, evolution.

She then said that foxes have gotten larger since she was little (from the size of a cat to the size of a medium-sized cattle dog, which is how big they are here in Australia, although ours are pretty and dainty), because they had interbred with dogs, to whom - according to her - they are closely related.

"We have had some problems with our wild canines here and it is our own fault. [...] The foxes, being close to domesticated dogs have bred with them and are much larger than they should be. The thing is the wolves kept the deer population in check and got rid of any of them that were sick or had diseases, the coyotes don't even belong here but we have them here in packs (coyotes traditionally are a lone animal but the wolf in them have made them pack animals)."

Woah, woah. Hold up. Coyotes aren't pack animals, but they're not lone animals, either. They aren't always in a group, but will often form a group to hunt and scavenge.

Now, here's the thing. Dogs and foxes? nowhere near related.

Dogs are wolves. They are genetically wolves. Canis lupus familiaris is the domestic dog (wikipedia also lists canis lupus dingo as a domestic dog. I want to point out that this is extremely untrue. They decend from Indian wolves, not domestic animals, and as such share very few of the traits of familiaris. they can't bark, for one), decending from canis lupus - the gray wolf.

Foxes, on the other hand, are vulpes. The largest and most biologically spread fox (and in fact, the most spread of carnivora) is the red fox. In Australia, our foxes are pretty frigging huge and anything but wussy. Foxes are evolutionarily successful because they have balls of steel.

Anyone versed in biology would know that animals that are not in the same genus cannot interbreed. Canis and vulpes are both canidae - but not at all closely related. Behaviour-wise, foxes are closer to cats - their hunting, breeding and social characteristics are very similar. Taxanomically, they are related to canines, but - and i reiterate - they are not canines. They are unique in their genus (vulpes is in the "tribe" of vulpini, in which is the one family of the foxes. There is no other family in that branch), whereas dogs and wolves share their sub-family (caninae, not tribe because that page doesn't exist, thank you wikipedia) with all canines, including the racoon dog. Go google a picture of them. They're adorable.
So what could be causing this, if not interbreeding?
The increase in the size of the foxes is explainable in one, beautiful word: evolution.

"But," I don't hear you cry, "doesn't evolution take hundreds and thousands of years?"

No. That's a misconception. Evolution takes hundreds and thousands of generations

These. Thousands of them.
Thirty years' worth of generations. With a population of red foxes - and these populations are high, by which I mean that there are millions of breeding pairs (foxes are generally monogamous, although lower-ranking individuals have been known to have multiple-father litters and be kind of whores) - with the kits reaching sexual maturity between nine and twelve months (depending on when spring falls), and the father of the kits and barren vixens feeding and caring for the nursing mother, there are more than enough animals to kick evolution into gear. Litters of kits consist usually of four to six babies, with litters above ten in higher-mortality areas. Foxes are the perfect example of evolution.

With more wolves and coyotes (and bigger and more agressive hybrids) in their territory, the foxes need to grow in order to survive. And that's what foxes do, and have always done.

Long story short, we as a species are screwed. I for one welcome our foxy overlords.

PS: going to start giving labels to my posts. For fun. And pony. FOR PONY


Teresa said...


Unknown said...

Thank you for being a fox lover. This post made me very happy.

Kitty Lovett; The Unadulterated Cat said...

Teresa - and on the seventh day he had a carrot. And it was good.

Ophelia - I do like the little guys. Growlithe and I want a domesticated russian silver fox. We'd call him Tesla and he'd be our cabaret mascot.

Lilly Peppermint said...

Ah... foxes. It was always exciting when we saw them as kids, but they're such a problem for the wildlife here. =(
I've always preferred chemistry to biology but I am interested in taxonomy (SP?) Great article. =)
x Lilly

Tenebris In Lux said...

Bats over here in America are suffering from something called White Nose Syndrome (WNS) where this mysterious white (I believe fungal?) substance blankets the bat's face when it is sleeping and suffocates them. I recently watched a documentary about it and it made me depressed. Oddly enough, they are finding that this only happens in America, not in "Old World" bats.

Sakara said...

Oh gods THANKYOU THANKYOU for this post. I recently was arguing with some asshat who said on answering an article id posted about someone having a et fox and it behaving alot like a dog "well it is a dog"
NO no its not..i gave him the same facts about genus, and family groups and such and he just wouldn't get it.
sad something like "russians did some breeding tests and found that you could turn a fox into a dog within 3 generations" Um where the fuck did you get that bullshit.

so yes, thankyou for validating my points. :D

EpagomenalMotif said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The HouseCat said...

While it was good of you to debunk the idea of dogs and foxes interbreeding as an explanation of their increased size, I don't think the time-span of 30 years is enough for it to have become an ingrained species trait, although as foxes give birth to several litters in their lives and each litter is of several young that may or may not reach reproductive maturity, it is possible that if being larger was a beneficial trait (i.e, not something likely to shorten the lifespan of the fox) and a dominant gene that the numbers of larger foxes could increase quite rapidly. E.M of Superlative Goth guide, while being terribly unkind, did actually make a valid point on his blog about the time it would take for it to become a change in the species. I would think that if ALL the foxes in the area are larger I think it would probably be an environmental factor, such as a better diet during the growing period of young foxes giving them the nutritional resources to grow bigger. 30 years is a plausable time-scale for the formation of a new breed in the selective breeding of domestic animals, but without the forced incest and and culling from the breeding pool of animals without that trait that occurs in the selective breeding programs of domesticated animals, and the human intervention in terms of long-term survival for bred-in traits that would be detrimental in the wild, I would think that it would take longer for a population of the larger animals to occur.


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