Foxy moves for successful species

By JW. Dowey - 11 Jun 2014 8:37:43 GMT
Foxy moves for successful species

In the high Arctic, a fox can't be out without his thick white winter coat and tail; Arctic fox image; Credit: © Shutterstock

The arctic fox's ancestors originated at, "the third pole." This is a term used to emphasise that the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau are so cold and the ground so frozen that they almost equal the Arctic and Antarctic. Marcel Kurz was the explorer who first used the phrase. Hence the yak and the musk ox have similar coats to resist the cold and the woolly rhinoceros of Tibet and woolly mammoths from Siberia accentuate the trend. Foxes too have long and thick winter fur, a compactness of body and short appendages such as ears.

Pantherine cats, large canid animals and hyaena, and now the arctic fox, Vulpes lagopus can be added to this link with ancient Tibetan megafauna. These highly predaceous species resemble the current Arctic species lists (or guilds) of polar bear, wolf and our arctic fox. The related fossil fox from the Early Pliocene is a new species from the Zanda Basin and Kunlun Pass Basin of Tibet. Vulpes qiuzludingi is 20% larger than present and recent arctic fox species. Its dentition is hypercarnivorous, fitting it for a diet of larger mammals.

Northern populations of the red fox, Vulpes vulpes, and artic foxes are both smaller than the newly discovered Zanda Basin fox from the Himalaya. Just as a comparison the living Tibetan sand fox, Vulpes ferrilata has exactly the same basic dimensions, but is not closely related to the ancient fox. It seems to have remained in the mountains while rhino, wolf and future arctic fox took advantage of cooling Arctic temperatures to move north towards the Pole.

Xiaoming Wang of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and several colleagues in Southern California and China produced the paper in today's Proc.Roy,Soc.B, entitled - From 'third pole' to north pole: a Himalayan origin for the arctic fox. The "meanderings" of these fox species are so complex, the work must have been among the most difficult they have achieved so far!