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|Home > Life in Japan > Environment|
Friday, July 27, 2001
By ROWAN HOOPER
* Japanese name:Tanuki * Scientific name: Nyctereutes procyonoides viverrinus * Description: Tanuki look a bit like fat foxes, with short legs and black and gray fur. They grow up to 60 cm long and have distinctive stripes of black fur under their eyes, a bit like pandas. * Where to find them:Standing at the door of many traditional restaurants in Japan. Statues of tanuki, holding a bottle of sake, welcome guests arriving to eat. Real tanuki are not so easy to find, but are quite abundant from Honshu to Kyushu. They live in lowlands, forests and mountain valleys (up to 2,000 meters in altitude) and sometimes come into gardens looking for food. Unfortunately for them, this can bring them into contact with dogs, from which they can catch dangerous diseases. * Food: Almost anything. Tanuki are the classic omnivores, eating rodents, lizards, frogs, fruit, berries, insects and other invertebrates, including slugs and snails. They can even stomach poisonous toads, apparently producing huge amounts of saliva that dilutes the toad's poison. * Special features: Tanuki don't usually carry bottles of sake, but the statues are correct about their biology in one important detail: testes size. Rather than being used as an impromptu drum, as Japanese folklore would have it, the scrotum is large because of high levels of competition among males for females. This means that they copulate very frequently -- and need large testes. Also, according to folklore, tanuki can change shape at will. Despite their playful nature, tanuki are wild animals and should never be kept chained up like in the photo above.