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We met the world’s first domesticated foxes - YouTube
"This week, we meet the very cute and very bizarre result of an almost 60-year-long experiment: they’re foxes that have been specially bred for their dog-like friendliness toward people. We do a little behavior research of our own, and discover what scientists continue to learn from the world’s most famous experiment in domestication. The fox experiment continues under the supervision of Lyudmila Trut at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics. Her book “How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog)”, co-authored by Lee Alan Dugatkin, details the history and science behind the experiment."
foxes  animals  domestication  human-animalrelations  human-animalrelationships  2018  pets  morethanhuman  multispecies  wildlife 
september 2018 by robertogreco
Kitsune - Wikipedia
"Kitsune (狐, キツネ, IPA: [kitsɯne] (About this sound listen)) is the Japanese word for the fox. Foxes are a common subject of Japanese folklore; in English, kitsune refers to them in this context. Stories depict them as intelligent beings and as possessing paranormal abilities that increase with their age and wisdom. According to Yōkai folklore, all foxes have the ability to shapeshift into human form. While some folktales speak of kitsune employing this ability to trick others—as foxes in folklore often do—other stories portray them as faithful guardians, friends, lovers, and wives.

Foxes and humans lived close together in ancient Japan; this companionship gave rise to legends about the creatures. Kitsune have become closely associated with Inari, a Shinto kami or spirit, and serve as its messengers. This role has reinforced the fox's supernatural significance. The more tails a kitsune has—they may have as many as nine—the older, wiser, and more powerful it is. Because of their potential power and influence, some people make sacrifices to them as to a deity.

Conversely foxes were often seen as "witch animals", especially during the superstitious Edo period (1603–1867), and were goblins who could not be trusted (similar to some badgers and cats).[1]"
foxes  japan  sestracat  myth  myths  mythology  shinto  trickster  folklore  cats  badgers  shapeshifting  companionship  multispecies  morethanhuman  inari  kami  spirits 
august 2018 by robertogreco
Skoffín | A Book of Creatures
"Variations: Skoffin; Skuggabaldur, Finngalkn, Fingal; Urdarköttur, Naköttur; Modyrmi

Skoffin

The Skoffín is one of a complex of Icelandic fox-cat hybrids with a lethal gaze, combining the cunning of the fox with the cruelty of the cat. This group also includes the Skuggabaldur, Urdarköttur, and Modyrmi, all of which are variations on the same theme; they are also linked to the “demon harriers”, foxes sent by sorcerers to maul livestock.

A skoffín is born from the union of a male Arctic fox and a female tabby cat, and resembles both of them. Its gaze is so deadly that everything it looks at dies immediately, without needing to see it. Its exact appearance varies; it may even change color with the seasons like the Arctic fox does. Reports suggest that skoffíns are short-haired, with bald patches of skin throughout.

Skoffín kittens are born with their eyes wide open. If not destroyed immediately, they sink into the ground and emerge after 3 years of maturation. It is therefore imperative to kill sighted kittens before they can disappear into the ground. When a litter of three sighted kittens was born at a farm in Súluholt, they were placed in a tub of urine to prevent their descent into the earth, and were drowned by placing turf on top of them. The entire tub was then tossed onto a pile of manure and hay and set on fire. The mother cat was also killed.

Skoffíns are irredeemably vile and malicious, and satisfy their appetite for destruction by killing humans and livestock alike. They are best shot from a safe distance, ideally with a silver bullet and after having made the sign of the cross in front of the barrel, or having a human knucklebone on the barrel. Hardened sheep dung makes equally effective bullets.

Thankfully, skoffíns are not immune to their own gaze. An encounter between two skoffíns will lead to the death of both of them. As with basilisks, mirrors are their bane. Once a skoffín stationed itself on the roof of a church, and the parishioners started dropping dead as they left the building. The deacon understood what was going on, and had the rest of the congregation wait inside while he tied a mirror to a long pole and extended it outside to the roof. After a few minutes he gave the all-clear, and they were able to leave the church safely, as the skoffín had perished immediately upon seeing its reflection.

Eventually, confusion with the basilisk of the mainland muddled the skoffín’s image, leading to some accounts claiming it was hatched from a rooster’s egg.

The skuggabaldur (“shadow baldur”) or finngalkn has the same parentage as the skoffín, but is born of a tomcat and a vixen. It has very dark fur shading to black, sometimes has a deadly gaze, and preys on livestock. It may be killed in the same way as the skoffín. One particularly destructive skuggabaldur in Húnavatnssýslur was tracked down and killed in a canyon; with its last breath, it exhorted its killers to inform the cat at Bollastadir of its death. When a man repeated that incident at a Bollastadir farm, a tomcat – no doubt the skuggabaldur’s father – jumped at him and sank its teeth and claws into his throat. It had to be decapitated to release its hold, but by then the man was dead.

The urdarköttur (“ghoul cat”) or naköttur (“corpse cat”) is of less certain parentage. It may be a hybrid, but other accounts state that any cat that goes feral in Iceland eventually becomes an urdarköttur, and all-white kittens born with their eyes open will sink into the ground and re-emerge after three years in this form. Shaggy, white or black furred, growing up to the size of an ox, these felines kill indiscriminately and dig up corpses in graveyards. It may be killed in the same way, and is attached to the same story as the Bollastadir cat. Gryla’s pet, the Yule Cat, is most likely an urdarköttur.

The modyrmi (“hay wormling”) is a canine variant, created when puppies born with their eyes open sink into the ground and reappear after three years as wretched, virulent monsters. The specifics are the same as with the skoffín.

References

Boucher, A. (1994) Elves and Stories of Trolls and Elemental Beings. Iceland Review, Reykjavik.

Hermansson, H. (1924) Jon Gudmundsson and his Natural History of Iceland. Islandica, Cornell University Library, Ithaca.

Hlidberg, J. B. and Aegisson, S.; McQueen, F. J. M. and Kjartansson, R., trans. (2011) Meeting with Monsters. JPV utgafa, Reykjavik.

Stefánsson, V. (1906) Icelandic Beast and Bird Lore. The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 19, no. 75, pp. 300-308."
cats  foxes  animals  multispecies  morethanhuman  sestracat  iceland  hybrids  skoffín  skuggabaldur 
august 2018 by robertogreco
Inari Ōkami - Wikipedia
"Inari Ōkami (稲荷大神, also Oinari) is the Japanese kami of foxes, of fertility, rice, tea and sake, of agriculture and industry, of general prosperity and worldly success, and one of the principal kami of Shinto. In earlier Japan, Inari was also the patron of swordsmiths and merchants. Represented as male, female, or androgynous, Inari is sometimes seen as a collective of three or five individual kami. Inari appears to have been worshipped since the founding of a shrine at Inari Mountain in 711 AD, although some scholars believe that worship started in the late 5th century.

By the 16th century Inari had become the patron of blacksmiths and the protector of warriors, and worship of Inari spread across Japan in the Edo period. Inari is a popular figure in both Shinto and Buddhist beliefs in Japan. More than one-third (32,000) of the Shinto shrines in Japan are dedicated to Inari. Modern corporations, such as cosmetic company Shiseido, continue to revere Inari as a patron kami, with shrines atop their corporate headquarters.[1]

Inari's foxes, or kitsune, are pure white and act as their messengers."
japan  foxes  kitsune  japanese  shinto  srg 
august 2018 by robertogreco
Endangered Island Foxes Break Record for Fast Recovery | The Nature Conservancy - California
"Thanks to scientific strategy, the world’s smallest fox has rebounded from sure extinction in just a decade."
foxes  channelislands  california  2018  animals  wildlife  nature  multispecies 
july 2018 by robertogreco
Why domesticated foxes are genetically fascinating (and terrible pets) | PBS NewsHour
"Cultures across the globe consider foxes to be incorrigibly wild. In both ancient fables and big-budget movies, these fluffy mammals are depicted as being clever, intelligent and untamable. Untamable, that is, until an unparalleled biology experiment started in Siberia almost 60 years ago.

The tale begins with Dmitry Belyaev, who was studying genetics during a very dangerous time in the Soviet Union. State officials campaigned actively against genetic research with a tactic known as Lysenkoism, under which hundreds of biologists were either thrown in prison or executed. After Joseph Stalin’s death, the government’s grasp on genetic research loosened, and though it was still controversial, Belyaev was finally able to test a hypothesis he had been secretly pursuing.

As director of the newly-minted Institute of Cytology and Genetics, Belyaev was curious as to how dogs first became domesticated. He decided that to fully understand the process, he must attempt to replicate the early days of domestication. He picked foxes for the experiment because of their close family ties with dogs (both are canids). His research team visited fur farms across the Soviet Union and purchased the tamest foxes on hand. They figured using the most docile of the wild foxes for their breeding program would hasten the pace of domestication, relative to the thousands of years it took to breed dogs.

To prove the foxes’ friendly demeanor was the result of genetic selection, Belyaev’s team began to breed foxes that showed opposite traits of the tame pups. Instead of being outgoing and excited by encountering people, these foxes were defensive and aggressive. This result showed certain aspects of the fox’s behavior could be tied to genetics and spotted during breeding.

What does the (tame) fox say?

Unfortunately, Belyaev died before seeing the final results. But today, 58 years after the start of the program, there is now a large, sustainable population of domesticated foxes. These animals have no fear of humans, and actively seek out human companionship. The most friendly are known as “elite” foxes.

“By the tenth generation, 18 percent of fox pups were elite; by the 20th, the figure had reached 35 percent,” Lyudmilla Trut, one of the lead researchers at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics, wrote in a paper describing the experiment in 1999. “Today elite foxes make up 70 to 80 percent of our experimentally selected population.”

University of Illinois biologist Anna Kukekova has been studying these domesticated foxes since the late 1990s. Her lab digs into the genes behind the desirable traits in the animals.

One of the lab’s most interesting findings is that the friendly foxes exhibit physical traits not seen in the wild, such as spots in their fur and curled tails. Their ears show weird traits, too.

Like puppies, young foxes have floppy ears. But the ears of domesticated foxes stay floppier for a longer time after birth, said Jennifer Johnson, a biologist who has worked with Kukekova since the early 2000s.

As the researchers peered into the reasons behind the behavioral traits, they found there isn’t just one gene responsible for the friendly and outgoing behavior.

“The tameness (the nice versus mean) is actually separate from the bold animals versus the shy animals, and the active animals versus quiet animals,” Johnson said. “When these [tame and aggressive] animals are bred, we see a lot of interesting new behaviors.”

Johnson said it has been difficult to decipher these genetic secrets, because unlike for humans and dogs, no one has sequenced the genome of foxes … yet. Kukekova’s lab expects to publish a fox genome sometime soon.

Fly foxes, fly!

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the domesticated fox experiment fell on hard times as public funding for the project evaporated. The researchers realized quickly that keeping more than 300 foxes is an expensive enterprise. In the 1990s, the lab switched to selling some of the foxes as fur pelts to sustain the breeding program.

“The current situation is not catastrophic, but not stable at the same time,” Institute of Cytology and Genetics research assistant Anastasiya Kharlamova told BBC Earth last year. Now, the lab’s primary source of revenue is selling the foxes to people and organizations across the globe.

One customer is the Judith A. Bassett Canid Education and Conservation Center, located near San Diego. The center keeps six foxes — five of which are domesticated — as ambassadors for their species, so that people can get an up-close-and-personal view of the animals.

“We have a fox whose name is Boris, and as soon as someone walks in, he’ll run up to them like a dog will,” said David Bassett, president of the Conservation Center. “He wants to be scratched and if you don’t scratch him he’ll make you.”

Want a domesticated fox of your own? Remember these rules. First, bringing one into the United States costs almost $9,000. Several states outright ban people from keeping foxes as pets, including California, New York, Texas and Oregon. And of course, while domesticated foxes are friendlier than those in the wild, they can still be unpredictable.

“[You can be] sitting there drinking your cup of coffee and turning your head for a second, and then taking a swig and realizing, ‘Yeah, Boris came up here and peed in my coffee cup,’” said Amy Bassett, the Canid Conservation Center’s founder. “You can easily train and manage behavioral problems in dogs, but there are a lot of behaviors in foxes, regardless of if they’re Russian or U.S., that you will never be able to manage.”"
multispecies  foxes  animals  2017  wildlife  nature  genetics  domestication  cytology  dmitrybelyaev 
november 2017 by robertogreco
Arctic Foxes 'Grow' Their Own Gardens
"The little carnivores' colorful dens provide veritable oases in the tundra, a new study says."
foxes  arcticfoxes  gardening  multispecies  2016  nature  animals  wildlife 
november 2016 by robertogreco
How the U.S. Acted Too Late and Almost Lost the Island Fox - The Atlantic
"Some researchers have therefore begun to propose relocating animals across islands—a technique known as genetic rescue. It has worked elsewhere before, and it could inject each subspecies with enough variation to make it more vigorous.

It may seem like the ultimate in modern-day stewardship: Biologists ferrying small foxes across the sea, all for the good of the species. But modern-day ecologists will be repeating a more ancient exercise. While genetic evidence suggests that island foxes floated or swam to the northern islands during the previous ice age, when sea levels were lower, they did not reach the southern islands without help. Between 6,000 and 4,000 years ago, Native people, likely the Tongva, carried island foxes between the islands as companion animals. In particular, it seems increasingly likely that people introduced foxes to Santa Catalina and the southern isles.

In the long view, the story looks less like people disturbing a pristine environment and then rushing to remedy their own failure. Instead, it suggests a longer story of human-fox coexistence. Without human help, there wouldn't be island foxes anymore. And without humans in the first place, these particular kinds of island fox might not have existed at all."
foxes  animals  multispecies  channelislands  california  conservation  wildlife  eagles  pigs  2016 
august 2016 by robertogreco
Zao Fox Village | Atlas Obscura
"Sitting at the base of Japan's lush Mount Zao, the Zao Fox Village provides a home to over 100 crafty, bushy-tailed vulpines that are allowed to run free and cute amongst the visitors and religious offerings that pay homage to their mythic stature in Japanese culture.

Founded in 1990 the "village" allows guests to experience life in a world gone mad for foxes. The refuge contains six different species of vulpine canines in an array of shades. While the traditional Japanese Red Fox definitely rules the roost (so to speak), there are also black foxes, platinum foxes, and arctic foxes.

There are also a number of other animals like rabbits and baby goats to pet and feed in the first section of the sanctuary as well as some caged foxes. It is not until visitors move into the large free-range portion that the real fox army comes out. Small amounts of food can be purchase to offer the animals, but since the foxes are still essentially wild dogs, the staff encourages people not to hand feed the beasts, but rather toss the snacks to the ground lest they get nipped. This is not to say that they are frightening, in fact they are known to follow guests like a loyal pet after being fed, although this is more due to there hope of another meal than out of any emotional affection.

There are a number of traditional torii gates leading to the village and one standing within which allude to the fox's place in Japanese mythology where the clever animal is seen as an agent of the god Inari. This decoration see,s especially appropriate since standing among so many furry, chirping little beasts may just be so cute as to count as a religious experience."
foxes  animals  japan 
february 2015 by robertogreco
Guest Blog: Man's new best friend? A forgotten Russian experiment in fox domestication
[As summarized here: http://o-song.tumblr.com/post/1083774173/happy-skydiving-fox-embracing-bottom-crimewave ] "In Soviet Russia, foxes tame you! Story of a fascinating experiment by which a Russian geneticist secretly bred foxes for friendliness and fearlessness of humans, and which ended up making the foxes look like dogs - unlike wild foxes, they had floppy ears and shorter tails and doggish colour splotches on their coats."
evolution  science  dogs  foxes  domestication  russia  genetics  animals 
september 2010 by robertogreco
Op-Ed Columnist - Learning How to Think - NYTimes.com
"The predictions of experts were, on average, only a tiny bit better than random guesses — the equivalent of a chimpanzee throwing darts at a board.
crowdsourcing  predictions  learning  culture  expertise  credentials  politics  knowledge  experts  psychology  accountability  foxes  hedgehogs 
march 2009 by robertogreco

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