Friday, October 10, 2014

How Small Is An Island Fox?

Santa Cruz Island fox, courtesy of Anita Machlis
Frequently the size of an island fox is compared to a house cat. However, that can be a bit misleading. 

While house cats average from 8-10 pounds in weight, some breeds can easily weigh up to 18 pounds. Cats typically stand 8-10 inches at the shoulder.

Island foxes on the other hand are considerably smaller. While size varies between the islands and the subspecies, adults range from a weight of 2.35 to 6 pounds. Their fur may give the appearance of bulk, but most island foxes are quite slight in their physic. Finding enough food is always a challenge for these island dwellers. 

The length of the legs varies between islands, but the tallest of the island foxes only stand 8 inches at the shoulder. The Santa Cruz Island fox, the smallest, typically stands 6.5 - 7 inches at the shoulder. 

In actuality, island foxes actually weigh 40% less and are 22% shorter than the average house cat.

While felines are designed for leaping and vertical climbing, island foxes have somewhat weak legs. They can run and climb horizontally, but they are not leapers.

Can you guess what this is?

This is the view from inside a recycling trash can. Island foxes have narrow bodies. The largest males have heads that are only 2.5 inches wide. If an island fox can get its head into an opening, it can usually get the rest of its body through as well. Most island foxes can easily fit through the opening for a can or bottle. 

Human trash can be attractive to an animal that has a hard time finding enough food. Once an island fox gets into a recycle bin or a slightly open trash can, it has a very hard time getting out. 

 How do island foxes measure up to other small fox species?
  • kit fox (Vulpes macrotis), North America: 4 - 4.85 pounds; stand 12 inches to the shoulder
  • fennec fox (Vulpes zerda), Africa: 3 -3.5 pounds; stand 8 inches to the shoulder
fennec fox (Vulpes zerda), courtesy of Pat Meyer
The kit fox and the fennec fox are more closely related to each other than either is to the island fox. Because of the range in size among island fox subspecies, some island foxes are smaller than fennec foxes. Some weigh more than kit foxes, but all are shorter than kit foxes.