Vulpes rueppelliiRüppel's fox

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Geographic Range

Rueppell’s foxes (Vulpes ruepellii) are widespread. They are found in desert regions of North Africa and the Arabian peninsula, from as far east as Pakistan, to as far northwest as Israel and Jordan. Subspecies are often named based on their geographical distribution. ("Ruppell’s fox (Vulpes rueppelli)", 1990; Larivière and Seddon, 2001)

Habitat

Rueppell’s foxes are highly adapted to their desert habitats. They inhabit a wide range of substrates, but are most common in areas with sandy or dry, stony desert substrate. Due to competition with red foxes, Rueppell’s foxes have been pushed to more extreme habitats that red foxes do not dominate. (Cuzin and Lenain, 2004; Kingdon, 1997)

Physical Description

Rueppell’s foxes are small foxes with a predominately sandy-colored coat. A gray color morph also occurs, apparently an adaptation for living in rockier areas. Much of this species' body plan reflects its adaptation to the harsh climate. Like many desert dwelling foxes, Rueppell’s foxes have large, broad ears, and feet with furred pads that protect them from the heated sand. (Alderton, 1994; Lindsay and MacDonald, 1986)

Vulpes rueppelli is slender and has a long, bushy tail with a white tip. The legs and muzzle are both short. The predominate color is “buff”, which is a sand-like color, but there are white hairs that make up the dense undercoat. Gray markings on the face are quite diagnostic of this fox. Although V. ruepellii is often confused with fennec foxes, fennec foxes are generally smaller than Rueppell’s foxes. Vulpes rueppellii, on average, achieves a body length of 40 to 52 cm with a tail length of 25 to 39 cm. At the shoulder, they reach 30 cm and they weight around 1.2 to 3.6 kg. Males tend to be slightly larger than females, but in other respects, the sexes are monomorphic. ("Ruppell’s fox (Vulpes rueppelli)", 1990; Alderton, 1994; Diller and Haltenorth, 1980)

Vulpes rueppelli is slender and has a long, bushy tail with a white tip. The legs and muzzle are both short. The predominate color is “buff”, which is a sand-like color, but there are white hairs that make up the dense undercoat. This fox has gray markings on the face, that help distinguish it from other foxes. Although V. ruepellii is often confused with fennec foxes, fennec foxes are generally smaller than Rueppell’s foxes. Males tend to be slightly larger than females.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    1.2 to 3.6 kg
    2.64 to 7.93 lb
  • Range length
    40 to 52 cm
    15.75 to 20.47 in

Reproduction

Like most canids, Rueppell’s foxes form monogamous pairs in the mating season. Little is known about the specific reproductive ecology of Rueppell’s foxes. There have been sightings of family groups, which may indicate the existence of an extended family, as has been observed in species like red foxes. In Oman, breeding pairs patrol a territory and usually den together. Cohabitation of the same den does not occur during the non-breeding season. (Estes, 1992; Kingdon, 1997; Lindsay and MacDonald, 1986)

The process of attracting mates is not completely understood, but Rueppell’s foxes possess a vast array of scent glands. Male and female canids typically spend a great deal of time scent marking. Males may be able to sense heat through the vomeronasal organ. It is likely that Rueppell’s foxes are similar to other canids in these respects. (Estes, 1992)

Rueppell’s foxes probably breed in winter, from November to January, considering related species such as fennec foxes and red foxes breed at this time. Females give birth to 2 or 3 helpless pups in March. Pups are blind at birth. The gestation period is thought to be around 50 days, similar to red foxes. Rueppell’s fox pups are thought to be completely weaned at 6 to 8 weeks. Pups are thought to become independent around the age of four months. They reach sexual maturity within the first year. ("Ruppell’s fox (Vulpes rueppelli)", 1990; Alderton, 1994; Kingdon, 1997)

  • Breeding interval
    Rueppell's foxes breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs from November to January .
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 3
  • Average number of offspring
    2
  • Average number of offspring
    2
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    50 (low) days
  • Average gestation period
    50 days
  • Range weaning age
    42 to 56 days
  • Average time to independence
    4 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Many specific details on parental investment patterns of Rueppell’s foxes are unknown. However, the parents both serve important roles. In Oman, a female defends the den from her mate, but he remains in the area, never denning more than 200 meters away. A male may bring his mate food, like many other foxes do, or regurgitate food, a common practice in canids. Pups are independent after four months. (Estes, 1992; Kingdon, 1997; Lindsay and MacDonald, 1986)

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

Lifespan/Longevity

Rueppell’s foxes have a lifespan in captivity of approximately 6.5 years to 12 years. Their lifespan in the wild is unknown, but is probably greatly shorter due to pressures such as predation and competition with red foxes. The maximum lifespan of these foxes in the wild has been estimated at approximately 6 years. ("Ruppell’s fox (Vulpes rueppelli)", 1990; Larivière and Seddon, 2001)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    6.5 to 12 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    6 years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    9 (high) years
    AnAge

Behavior

Rueppell’s foxes are gregarious and nocturnal, sometimes venturing out at dawn and dusk. They often form monogamous pairs during the breeding season with possible extended family groups. Both sexes scent mark the territory. Females have a well developed violet gland that is used to scent mark the den site.

The scents produced by this species serve another function as well. The anal glands of Rueppell’s foxes provide a defense that is quite similar to that of a skunk. When threatened by a predator, a fox will hump back, raise its tail, and spray its enemy with a special secretion from the anal gland. ("Ruppell’s fox (Vulpes rueppelli)", 1990; Diller and Haltenorth, 1980; Estes, 1992; Lindsay and MacDonald, 1986)

  • Range territory size
    69 (high) km^2

Home Range

A pair of these animals patrols a home range of almost 69 square kilometers. When males patrol, they spray urine on borders, but do not leave feces. Rueppell’s fox have excellent vision and hearing, as well as a well-developed sense of smell. ("Ruppell’s fox (Vulpes rueppelli)", 1990; Diller and Haltenorth, 1980; Lindsay and MacDonald, 1986)

Communication and Perception

As mentioned before, Rueppell’s foxes spend much of their time scent marking. They have a variety of scent glands, especially toward the anus. Foxes often sniff each other's anal glands in a greeting. This behavior is widespread within the family Canidae. Females mark their dens with their violet glands and are often sniffed by the male as he passes. (Estes, 1992)

The type of communication that most dogs are known for is their ability to make some sort of barking noise. Rueppell’s foxes are no different, but only tend to use their bark or yelp when they are alarmed. When content, a fox tends to exhibit low chattering and long moans. (Diller and Haltenorth, 1980)

These animals have a well developed visual ability, and may use some visual communications, such as body postures, to communicate with conspecifics. Because they are social, tactile communication, especially between parents and offspring and between mates, is likely to be important also.

Food Habits

As with many desert predators, Rueppell’s foxes will eat almost anything that crosses their path. They are omnivores, partaking in anything from insects and small mammals to roots. Rueppell’s foxes tend to be mainly insectivores, but will chase and grab anything they can catch and eat. (Lindsay and MacDonald, 1986)

  • Animal Foods
  • mammals
  • reptiles
  • eggs
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • roots and tubers

Predation

Due to the inhospitable habitat they occupy, Rueppell’s foxes have few predators. Their main predators are aerial predators such as steppe eagles and eagle owls. The fur of these animals is often closely matches the substrate, helping to conceal them from predators. Pups are hidden underground to further prevent predation. (Larivière and Seddon, 2001)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Rueppell’s foxes serve as a population control for both rodents and insects. These pests can be very detrimental to humans considering both are important disease vectors as well as crop destroyers.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Rueppell’s foxes are not hunted often, but may be killed by locals. They are neither sold as pets or hunted for fur. These foxes do kill many pest species that cause millions of dollars in damage to crops.

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Rueppell’s foxes are considered pests because they are thought to eat poultry and other domesticated animals. They are also known vectors for the rabies virus. Vulpes vulpes appears to be the much more significant source of rabies however.

Conservation Status

Rueppell’s foxes are listed as DD (data deficient) by the IUCN. This species seems to be widespread but rare in its range. The actual population size of this fox is unknown. The main threats to it are habitat destruction and indiscriminate poisoning. Also competition with red foxes is making Rueppell's foxes compete for resources. ("Ruppell’s fox (Vulpes rueppelli)", 1990; Cuzin and Lenain, 2004)

Other Comments

Rueppell’s foxes are legendary for their survival skills; they can survive even in the most harsh of conditions. The abilities of this species gave rise to a legend that the fox drinks by keeping its head in the breeze and getting water from the wind. (Larivière and Seddon, 2001)

Contributors

Elizabeth Kierepka (author), Michigan State University, Barbara Lundrigan (editor, instructor), Michigan State University, Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Glossary

Ethiopian

living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

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

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

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.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

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

pheromones

chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species

scent marks

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

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

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

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.

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

1990. "Ruppell’s fox (Vulpes rueppelli)" (On-line). Canid Action Plan 1999. Accessed March 06, 2005 at http://www.canids.org/SPPACCTS/vrueppel.htm.

Alderton, D. 1994. Foxes, Wolves and Wild Dogs of the World. London, United Kingdom: Blanford.

Cuzin, F., D. Lenain. 2004. "Vulpes ruepelli" (On-line). IUCN. Accessed March 05, 2005 at http://www.redlist.org/search/details.php?species=23053.

Diller, H., T. Haltenorth. 1980. A Field Guide to the Mammals of Africa Including Madagascar. London, United Kingdom: William Collins Sons & Co Ltd.

Estes, J. 1992. Behavior Guide to African Mammals. San Diego, California: University of California Press.

Kingdon, J. 1997. The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. San Diego, California: Academic Press.

Larivière, S., P. Seddon. 2001. Vulpes rueppelli. Mammalian Species, 678: 1-5.

Lindsay, I., D. MacDonald. 1986. Behaviour and ecology of the Rüppell's fox Vulpes rueppelli, in Oman. Mammalia, 50: 461-474.