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The Silver Fox is a melanistic form of red fox. Silver foxes display a great deal of pelt variation: some are completely black, save for the white tail tip, while others are bluish-grey, and others may have a cinereous colour on the sides. Historically, silver foxes were among the most valued furbearers, and their skins were frequently worn by nobles in Russia and other parts of Europe, as well as in China. Wild silver foxes do not reproduce exclusively with members of the same coat morph, and can be littermates with the common red variety, though captive populations bred for their fur are almost exclusively mated with members of the same colour.
The long outer hair extends on some parts two inches (5 cm) beyond the shorter underfur, particularly under the throat, behind the shoulders, on the sides and the tail. The hair of the underfur is brown at the base, then silver grey and tipped with black. The hair is soft, glossy and was once reputed to be finer than that of the pine marten. The uniformly blackish brown or chocolate coloured underfur, which is unusually long and dense, measures in some places two inches and is exceedingly fine. It surrounds the whole body even to the tail, where it is a little coarser and woollier. The fur is shortest on the forehead and limbs, and is finer on the underparts. When viewed individually, the hairs composing the belly fur exhibit a wavy appearance. There are scarcely any long hairs on the ears, which are thickly clothed with fur. The soles of the feet are so thickly clothed with woolly hair that no callous spots are visible. According to East-Siberian hunters, the footprints of silver foxes are larger than those of the red variety, not just due to their larger feet, but by their greater fluffiness. Silver foxes also tend to be more cautious than red foxes.
When bred with another member of the same colour morph, silver foxes will invariably produce silver coated offspring, particularly after the third generation. When mated to pure red foxes, the resulting cubs will be fiery red in colour, save for much blacker markings on the belly, neck and points. When one such fiery red fox is mixed with a silver one, the litter is almost always 50% silver and 50% red. Fiery red parents may occasionally produce a silver cub, the usual proportion being one in four. Occasionally, the colours of mixed foxes blend rather than segregate. The blended offspring of a silver and red fox is known as a cross fox.
In North America, silver foxes occur mostly in northwestern part of the continent. In the 19th century, silver foxes were sometimes taken in Labrador, the Magdalen Islands and rarely in the mountainous regions of Pennsylvania and the wilder portions of New York. They were occasionally spotted in Nova Scotia. According to Sir John Richardson, a greater number than 4-5 silver foxes were rarely taken in any one season in areas where they were present, though trappers would prioritise them above all other furbearers once they were discovered. Silver foxes comprise up to 8% of Canada's red fox population.
In the former Soviet Union, silver foxes occur mostly in forest zones and forest-tundra belts, particularly in middle and eastern Siberia and the Caucasus mountains. They are very rare in steppes and deserts.
History of fur use
In the richness and beauty of its splendid fur the Silver-gray Fox surpasses the beaver or sea otter, and the skins are indeed so highly esteemed that the finest command extraordinary prices, and are always in demand.—John James Audubon, quoted from The Imperial Collection of Audubon Animals, 1967
They are glossy black on their necks, where no silver hairs are found. The black must be of a bluish cast all over the body rather than a reddish. The under fur must also be dark colored. The fur of silver and black foxes is a dark slate next to the skin. The silver hairs have pure silver bands, but they're not white nore very prominent. In the costliest skins there are only a few silver hairs, which are well scattered over the pelt. Flakiness, which is the appearance of whitish silver hairs placed close together in patches, is objectionable. Buyers pass judgement on the skins by drawing the hand over the fur. The softest fur is the most valuable. The quality of softness is referred to as "silkiness." The sheen must be evident. It is caused by the perfect health of the animal and the fineness of the hair, as well as by hereditary influences. Woods and humid atmosphere also favour this important quality. A good fox skin will weigh at least one pound, the weight usually varying from ten to nineteen ounces. The thick, long fur makes the weight. This is a very important point, as heavy fur is more durable and handsome. The value of silver fox pelts increases with the size.—The Fur Trade of America by Agnes C. Laut, 1921
In North America
The fur of a silver fox was once considered by the natives of New England to be worth over 40 American beaver skins. A chieftain accepting a gift of silver fox fur was seen as an act of reconciliation. The records of the Hudson's Bay Company indicate that 19–25% of fox skins traded in British Columbia in the years 1825–1850 were silver, as were 16% of those traded in Labrador. The fur was almost always sold to Russian and Chinese traders. Before the practice of fur farming was eventually refined on Prince Edward Island, it was standard practice to release free ranging silver foxes into small islands, where they quickly starved to death. Fur farmers on Prince Edward Island gained success by breeding and caring for their foxes in captivity. Also, Prince Edward Island fur farmers recognised the species' monogamous habits and permitted their studs to mate for life with a single female. The fur of captive bred foxes was of a better quality than that of free ranging ones (worth $500–1,000 rather than $20–30) because of better care and diet. These silver foxes would be bred strictly with members of their own colour morph, and by the third generation, all residual traces of red or cross ancestry disappeared.
Silver foxes in Russian fur farms are of North American stock, and are selectively bred in order to remove as much brown from the fur as possible, as the presence of brown fur lowers the pelt's value. Estonia began farming silver foxes in 1924, after receiving 2,500 foundation specimens from Norway to Mustajõe farm. The numbers of Estonian silver fox farms steadily increased in the following decades. During the soviet period, the silver fox industry boomed due to government subsidies and a focus on selectively breeding foxes for greater fertility than fur quality.
- Main article: Domesticated silver fox
The domesticated silver fox is the result of over 50 years of experiments in the Soviet Union and Russia to domesticate the silver fox. The breeding project was set up in the 1950s by the Soviet scientist Dmitri K. Belyaev. As a result of selective breeding, the new foxes not only have become tamer, but more dog-like as well. The domesticated foxes exhibit both behavioral and physiological changes from their wild forebears. They are friendlier with humans, put their ears down (like dogs), wag their tails when happy, and have begun to vocalize and bark like domesticated dogs. They have also developed color patterns like domesticated dogs and have lost their distinctive musky "fox smell."
According to the creation myth of the Achomawi people of California, the silver fox originated as a fog which formed at the creation of the earth, and subsequently became human. Travelling the water-covered earth in a canoe, the silver fox unintentionally created land masses by throwing the hair stuck to his comb into the sea.
- Cross fox (animal)
- Domesticated silver fox
- Audubon, John James (1967). The Imperial Collection of Audubon Animals, p307.
- Macdonald, David (1987). Running with the Fox, p224, Unwin Hyman.
- Laut, Agnes C. The Fur Trade of America, Kessinger Publishing, 2004. ISBN 0-7661-9616-X
- The quadrupeds of North America, Volume 3 by John James Audubon and John Bachman, by illustrated by John Woodhouse Audubon, published by V.G. Audubon, 1854
- Mammals of the Soviet Union Vol.II Part 1a, Sirenia and Carnivora (Sea cows; Wolves and Bears), V.G Heptner and N.P Naumov editors, Science Publishers, Inc. USA. 1998. ISBN 1-886106-81-9
- Red Fox, New York's Wildlife Resources, Number 11, 1982
- Morton, Thomas (1972). New English Canaan: Or, New Canaan (Research Library of Colonial Americana), p188, New York: Arno Press.
- Robinson, H. M. The Great Fur Land; Or, Sketches of Life in the Hudson's Bay Territory, BiblioBazaar, LLC, 2009. ISBN 1-115-73924-7
- Fur Farming in Estonia
- Early Canid Domestication: The Farm-Fox Experiment by Lyudmila N. Trut
- (1990) Californian Indian nights: stories of the creation of the world, of man, of fire, of the sun, of thunder ..., University of Nebraska Press.
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