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Thursday, July 17, 2003


Red fox

* Japanese name: Kitsune
* Scientific name: Vulpes vulpes japonica
* Description: Foxes look somewhat like dogs and belong to the same family. The fur of the red fox is orange-rust colored, apart from the throat, belly and tip of the tail, which are white. The feet and the rims of the ears are black. There are two subspecies in Japan: kitakitsune, which live in Hokkaido and are 60-80 cm long; and hondokitsune, which live from Honshu to Kyushu and are generally smaller, 52-76 cm long.
* Where to find them: In forests, around farms and in urban areas. They are mainly solitary and are active at night. They live in a den in a territory of between 5 and 50 sq. km, marked out with urine and with scent from anal glands. Males have larger territories than females.
* Food: Small mammals, birds, frogs, invertebrates (insects, snails, worms), carrion, fruit and berries. Around 60 percent of their diet consists of mice and other rodents (foxes can hear a mouse squeak from 100 meters away). Foxes sometimes catch game birds, usually sick or weak ones. City foxes, like the ragged-looking one in the photo, tend to scavenge for food more than their countryside cousins.
* Special features: December to February is the mating season, and males stalk females for weeks before they finally mate (the female may mate with several males before settling on a partner, however). After 7-8 weeks, the female stays in the den and food is brought to her by the male. She then gives birth to 3-6 blind, deaf, fur-covered cubs. After about two months, the cubs start exploring the outside world, learning hunting techniques while playing. By the end of autumn, the now unruly juveniles are driven away by the parents. They reach sexual maturity in their first winter. In Japan, foxes were long considered to be spirits, delivering messages for Inari, the god of rice. Folk stories tell of their mischievous nature. In one, a husband discovers his wife is a fox when he sees her bushy tail poking out from under the quilt. However the fox-wife is a good spirit and helps her husband avoid paying his rice tax.

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