Vulpes bengalensisBengal fox(Also: Indian fox)

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Geographic Range

Vulpes bengalensis is native to the Indian subcontinent, including India, Nepal and Pakistan and is widespread throughout its range. These foxes are found in the Himalayan foothills to the tip of the Indian peninsula. (Johnsingh and Jhala, 2004)

Habitat

Bengal foxes generally prefer foothills and non-forested regions such as open grassland, thorny scrub, semi-desert and arid environments. They can also be found in agricultural fields, as they are not generally fearful of humans. Bengal foxes inhabit burrows built approximately two to three feet below ground surface. These burrows have several openings converging towards the center burrow area. Many of these openings are blind while others lead towards a large, central breeding space. (Johnsingh, 1978)

  • Average elevation
    1350 m
    4429.13 ft

Physical Description

Bengal foxes are medium sized foxes. They have elongated muzzles and small patches of black hair on the upper portion of the muzzle. The most prominent feature of Bengal foxes is a large bushy tail accounting for up to 60% of their body length and possessing a distinct black tip. During normal movement, the tail is left trailing. When running the tail is carried horizontally. It is held vertically when these foxes make sudden turns. Dorsal pelage varies seasonally and within populations but is generally hoary gray on the dorsum and paler ventrally. Pelage on the ears is dark brown with a black margin. Their ears are large for their size and are possible an adaptation to thermoregulation in their hot, arid habitats. Dentition includes sharply pointed canines and and well developed molar teeth with a dental formula of 3/3-1/1-4/4-2/3 = 42. (Johnsingh and Jhala, 2004)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    2.26 to 4.18 kg
    4.98 to 9.21 lb
  • Range length
    45.72 to 60.96 cm
    18.00 to 24.00 in

Reproduction

Bengal foxes are believed to live in long-term monogamous pairs, but this supposition is based on little evidence. During the breeding season, males vocalize intensely during the night and at dusk and dawn. (Johnsingh, 1978)

Bengal foxes remain near dens during the period from February to June, when they are raising pups. They breed from December to January with an average litter size of two. Birth occur from January to March. The breeding season is announced by re-excavation of old dens or the digging of new dens. Bengal foxes have also been known to appropriate gerbil burrows and show significant site fidelity, with dens being used year after year. (Johnsingh, 1978; Manakadan and Rahmani, 2000; Sheldon, 1992)

  • Breeding interval
    Bengal foxes breed once annually.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs from December to January.
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 6
  • Average number of offspring
    2.7
  • Average number of offspring
    4
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    50 to 53 days
  • Average weaning age
    3 weeks
  • Average time to independence
    4 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 to 2 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 to 2 years

Parental investment in V. bengalensis is poorly studied but it is believed that both female and male foxes participate in raising offspring. Males have been reported to hunt in order to provide food to females and offspring during the pup rearing phase. Both males and females are responsible for guarding dens. There have been no observations of helpers in the pup rearing phase. Dens with young are rarely left unguarded for the first two months after their birth, parents take turns foraging. The young are care for 4 to 5 months after their birth, at which point they disperse. Dispersal often coincides with the beginning of the monsoon season, a season of plentiful prey abundance. (Johnsingh and Jhala, 2004; Johnsingh, 1978; Manakadan and Rahmani, 2000)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male

Lifespan/Longevity

Because of their low population densities, little is known about the lifespan of Bengal foxes in the wild. The average lifespan of Vulpes species generally ranges between 10 and 12 years, which may be indicative of the expected lifespan of V. bengalensis. The most significant cause of mortality is persecution by humans, as well as natural predation, roadkills, and human caused habitat degradation. Populations of Bengal foxes fluctuate naturally with prey availability. (Johnsingh and Jhala, 2004)

Behavior

Bengal foxes are tame and generally not fearful of humans, making them vulnerable to hunting. In response to human presence, Bengal fox populations alter their active periods from daytime to crepuscular and nocturnal habits. In mild temperatures and cloudy weather, daytime hunting also occurs. Hunting is a solitary behavior in these foxes. The basic social unit is one breeding pair but larger aggregations may occur when grown pups remain in their natal area. Female Bengal foxes have been witnessed sharing dens during lactation and four adult foxes have been seen emerging from the same den. (Johnsingh, 1978; Manakadan and Rahmani, 2000)

  • Range territory size
    10 (high) m^2

Home Range

Home ranges consist of one or several dens and foraging area around the dens. These dens contain complex tunnel systems. Generally a den has 2 to 7 entrance tunnels, but a den with 43 tunnels has been noted. Dens are reused and become larger with use. A single den in the Gujarat region spanned 10 x 8 m. (Manakadan and Rahmani, 2000)

Communication and Perception

The common vocalization of Bengal foxes is a chattering cry that plays a major role in advertising territory. These foxes also growl, whimper, whine and "growl-bark." During the breeding season, males vocalize extensively during the early morning hours, at dusk, and at night. Scat and scent marking are also used to indicate territories and areas that have been recently hunted. (Henry, 1977; Johnsingh and Jhala, 2004)

Food Habits

Vulpes bengalensis is an omnivorous, opportunistic species that feeds mainly on insects, birds and their eggs, small rodents, reptiles, and fruits. While the primary diet of adults is insects, the fecal matter of pups is is composed primarily of rodent hair. Common prey includes orthopterans, termites, ants, beetle grubs, spiders, soft-furred rats (Millardia meltada), little Indian field mice (Mus booduga), Indian gerbils (Tatera indica), Indian mynahs (Acridotheres tristis), grey partridge (Francolinus ponticerianus), and ashy-crowned finch larks (Eremopterix griseus). Less common prey items include ground lizards, rat snakes (Ptyas mucuosus), hedgehogs (Parantechinus nudiventris), and Indian hares (Lepus nigricollis). They feed on fruits of ber (Ziziphus), neem (Azadirachta indica), mango (Mangifera indica), jambu (Syizigium cumini), and banyan (Ficus bengalensis). (Johnsingh, 1978; Manakadan and Rahmani, 2000)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • reptiles
  • eggs
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit

Predation

Asiatic wolves (Canis lupus pallipes) and feral dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) are recognized as natural predators of V. bengalensis. However, this predation does not appear to have a significant impact on population density. (Johnsingh and Jhala, 2004)

Ecosystem Roles

Bengal foxes prey on small rodents and birds and are subject to predation by Asiatic wolves and feral dogs (Canis lupus). More research should be conducted in order to fully understand the role Bengal foxes play in prey population cycles. Current research is investigating the potential for disease transfer from free-ranging domesticated dogs in agricultural regions to Bengal fox populations. At the Rollapadu Wildlife Sanctuary, an outbreak of distemper was responsible for a five fold change in population density over 3 years. Both Asiatic wolves (C. l. pallipes) and and jackals (C. aureus) appropriate and enlarge Bengal fox dens. (Johnsingh, 1978; Manakadan and Rahmani, 2000; Vanak, 2005)

Mutualist Species
  • golden jackals (Canis aureus)
  • Asiatic wolves (Canis lupus pallipes)
Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Dirofilara immitis

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There is no formal trade for fur as it is seen as low quality, however local trades do exist for claws, skin, tails, and teeth for potential medicinal purposes or as charms. Bengal foxes may help to control populations of agricultural pests, such as orthopterans and small rodents. (Johnsingh and Jhala, 2004)

  • Positive Impacts
  • body parts are source of valuable material
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Currently, no evidence suggests Bengal foxes are harmful to human populations. While these foxes inhabit agricultural areas, there are no reports of them raiding poultry or attacking sheep. They have been reported to carry rabies, distemper, and heartworm, like other canids. (Johnsingh and Jhala, 2004; Rao and Archarjyo, 1971; Vanak, 2005)

Conservation Status

Data suggest declining numbers in V. bengalensis populations, but population estimates are difficult to come by. Several threats exist from human interactions with their environment. Bengal foxes are susceptible to habitat loss and degradation, persecution, roadkills, and changes in native species dynamics due to pathogens or parasites. The Indian Wildlife Protection Act (1972 as amended up to 1991) prohibits hunting of all wildlife and lists the Bengal fox in Schedule II. Currently no active conservation efforts are in place. (Johnsingh and Jhala, 2004)

Bengal foxes are held in captivity in several places, where they seem to do well. In 2001, there were 15 males, 14 females, and 11 unsexed individuals in several zoos. (Johnsingh and Jhala, 2004)

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Pamela Meadors (author), University of Alaska Fairbanks, Link Olson (editor, instructor), University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Glossary

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

causes or carries domestic animal disease

either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

omnivore

an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

oriental

found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

Henry, J. 1977. The use of urine marking in the scavenging behaviour of the red fox (Vulpes vulpes). Behaviour, 61: 82-106.

Johnsingh, A. 1978. Some aspects of the ecology and behaviour of the Indian Fox Vulpes bengalensis . Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, 75: 397-405.

Johnsingh, A., Y. Jhala. 2004. Vulpes bengalensis (Shaw 1800). In Canids: Foxes, Wolves, Jackals, and Dogs. Status Survery and Conservation Action Plan, 2004: 219-222.

Manakadan, R., A. Rahmani. 2000. Population and ecology of the Indian fox Vulpes bengalensis at the Rollapadu Wildlife Sanctuary, Andhra Pradesh, India. Journal of the Bombay natural History Society, 97: 3-14.

Rao, A., L. Archarjyo. 1971. Histopathological changes in some of the organs in heart worm infection in an Indian fox (Vulpes bengalensis). Indian Vet Journal, 48/4: 342-344.

Sheldon, J. 1992. Wild dogs: The natural history of the non-domesticated Canidae. New York, New York: Academic Press.

Vanak, A. 2005. "Distribution and status of the Indian fox Vulpes bengalensis in southern India" (On-line pdf). Canid News 8.1. Accessed December 01, 2006 at http://www.canids.org/canidnews/8/Indian_fox_in_southern_India.pdf.