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.
Biogeographic Regions: oriental (Native )
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.
Range mass: 2.26 to 4.18 kg.
Range length: 45.72 to 60.96 cm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike
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.
Average elevation: 1350 m.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; savanna or grassland ; scrub forest
Other Habitat Features: agricultural
Habitat and Ecology
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).
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; reptiles; eggs; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods
Plant Foods: fruit
Primary Diet: omnivore
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.
- golden jackals (Canis aureus)
- Asiatic wolves (Canis lupus pallipes)
- Dirofilara immitis
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.
- Asiatic wolves (Canis lupus pallipes)
- feral dogs (Canis lupus familiaris)
Life History and Behavior
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.
Communication Channels: acoustic ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: scent marks
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
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.
Status: wild: 10.0 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
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.
Mating System: monogamous
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.
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.
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.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous
Average birth mass: 58.5 g.
Average number of offspring: 4.
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.
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)
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.
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.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 2004Least Concern
- 1996Data Deficient
- 1994Indeterminate(Groombridge 1994)
- 1990Indeterminate(IUCN 1990)
- 1988Insufficiently Known(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
There are no known commercial uses for the Indian Fox, although there is limited localized trade for skin, tail, teeth and claws (for medicinal and charm purposes). There is no trade or potential for trade of the Indian Fox.
Occurs in protected areas in India and Nepal.
There have been no conservation efforts targeted specifically for the species.
The Indian Fox is held in captivity in several zoos in India, where the species breeds well. In 2001, there were 15 males, 14 females, and 11 unsexed individuals in several zoos (Central Zoo Authority pers. comm.).
Gaps in knowledge
A status survey is needed to identify areas throughout the species' range that have large, relatively secure fox populations. In some of these areas, an in-depth, long-term study is needed on population dynamics of the Indian fox. This would help elucidate the fox's relationship with prey population cycles and disease outbreaks. Research is also needed on ranging patterns, territoriality, and behaviour of this poorly studied species.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
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.
Negative Impacts: causes or carries domestic animal disease
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.
Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material; controls pest population
The Bengal fox (Vulpes bengalensis), also known as the Indian fox, is a fox endemic to the Indian subcontinent and is found from the Himalayan foothills and Terai of Nepal through southern India and from southern and eastern Pakistan to eastern India and southeastern Bangladesh.
Vulpes bengalensis is a relatively small fox with an elongated muzzle, long, pointed ears, and a bushy tail about 50 to 60% of the length of the head and body. Its dorsal pelage is very variable, but mostly grayish and paler ventrally; its legs tend to be brownish or rufous. It is more daintily built than Vulpes vulpes. The tail is bushy with a prominent black tip which distinguishes it from V. vulpes. Back of ears are dark brown with black margin. Its rhinarium is naked and the lips are black, with small black hair patches on upper part of nuzzle (shaft) in front of eyes. The ears have the same colour as the nape or maybe darker, but not having a dark patch as in V. vulpes. Extensive variation in coat colour exists across populations and seasonally within populations, but generally varies from grey to pale brown. The head and body length is 18 in (46 cm), with a 10 in (25 cm) long tail. Typical weight is 5 to 9 pounds (2.3 to 4.1 kg).
The genus Vulpes can be separated from Canis and Cuon in the Indian region by the flat forehead between the postorbital processes and not inflated by air cells. The processes themselves are slightly concave with a raised anterior edge (convexly round in other canids). The canine teeth are longer.
The species is found throughout much of the Indian subcontinent with the exception of the wet forests and the extreme arid zone. The distribution is bounded by the Himalayan range and the Indus river valley. The preferred habitat is short open grassland, scrub or thorn forest. They appear to avoid steep terrain, tall grassland. Indian foxes were considered to be habitat generalists, but recent studies have shown a strong preference for semi-arid short grassland habitats at multiple scales.
Behaviour and ecology
The Bengal fox is mainly crepuscular in its habits. During the heat of the day, they hide under vegetation or in subterranean dens that they dig. The dens are large and complex with multiple chambers and escape routes. They are sometimes seen basking at a vantage point around sunrise or sunset. In captivity, the lifespan is about 6 to 8 years.
The Bengal fox feeds on rodents, reptiles, crabs, termites, insects, small birds, and fruits. Scats of young pups appeared to show that they fed mainly on rodents but are opportunistic feeders.
Foxes make a wide range of vocalizations. A chattering cry is the most common call. They also growl, whine, whimper and bark. The Bengal fox does not appear to have latrine behaviour, a feature seen in some social canids, in which all members defecate at specific spots.
The Bengal fox forms pair bonds that may last a lifetime, but extra-pair copulations are known to occur. Throughout most of its range, the mating season starts in autumn (usually October–November) and after a gestation period approximately 50–60 days, two to four pups are born in a den. Both parents participate in pup-rearing. The pups are fully weaned about 3–4 months after emerging from the den. Pup mortality is high during the first few months. Pups may sometimes be nursed by multiple females. During the day they tend to rest under shrubs and bushes, except in summer when they rest in dens.
Lack of habitat protection is perhaps the greatest threat to the Indian fox. For example, in southern India, less than two percent of potential Indian fox habitat is covered under the existing protected area network of the states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh . Hunting for its skin and flesh as well as conversion of its grassland habitat to agriculture, industry and increasingly bio-fuel plantations, have affected its population density. In addition, its body parts are used in traditional medicine, and in some areas it is eaten. They are hunted by the narikuruva tribes of southern India. In Karnataka, they are captured in rituals conducted during Sankranthi. Another major threat is disease such as canine distemper virus and rabies, which spills over from the large unvaccinated populations of free-ranging dogs that are found throughout its range.
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