Red Fox: Red foxes tend to live near farmland, which provides them with good hunting ground and plenty of rodents, a staple of the fox’s diet. Despite this tendency to live near civilization, the fox’s keen senses and alertness keep it mostly inconspicuous to humans, who are potentially dangerous predators. As a result the red fox has been immortalized in folklore and in Aesop’s fables for its craftiness and cunning.
The most familiar members of the dog family belong to the genus Canis. These include domestic dogs, wolves, coyotes, and jackals. Wolves are the largest wild members of the dog family. Two species are alive today: gray wolves (also called timber wolves) and red wolves. Gray wolves once ranged throughout most of the northern hemisphere, but they are now found in just a few wild areas of northern North America and Asia, particularly in Siberia. These animals are well known for their pack structure and complex social behavior. Red wolves were once widespread in the southeastern United States, but they are now nearly extinct in the wild. Maintained in captivity, they have been reintroduced in North Carolina but are still threatened by habitat destruction and by interbreeding with coyotes.
Domestic dogs are derived from and are still very closely related to gray wolves. In fact, many scientists consider them to be members of the same species. Domestic dogs have been selectively bred by people into a great many shapes and sizes. They range from tiny chihuahuas and other toy breeds weighing less that 1 kg (2 lb) to huge mastiffs weighing more than 80 kg (176 lb).
Raccoon Dog: Despite the fact that the raccoon dog, Nyctereutes procyonoides, looks, unsurprisingly, like a raccoon, and does not bark, it is indeed a member of the canid family. Known as the Ussurian raccoon, it was introduced into Russian fur farms in the 1920s. Since the raccoon dog frequently carries rabies, its proliferation in the wild has been closely monitored and discouraged.
Coyotes are similar to wolves in shape and in many of their habits, but they are substantially smaller, weighing up to about 15 kg (33 lb). Like wolves, coyotes live in family groups consisting of a pair of adult parents and their offspring. They usually hunt alone, but they may team up with one or two other coyotes to chase prey.
African Hunting Dog: The African hunting dog, also called the African wild dog, lives in regions south and east of the Sahara. The dogs travel in packs of up to 50 individuals and may cover huge areas of terrain in their search for food.
Jackals include four species found in the eastern hemisphere from Africa to central Asia. They are slender animals, even smaller than coyotes, with large, upright ears and bushy tails. They may live near villages and towns, where they sometimes earn a reputation as scavengers and livestock predators.
Wolves: Wolves are fierce and powerful hunters, but among themselves they can be affectionate and playful. There are two types of wolves, both of which can be found in North America—the large gray, or timber wolf, and the smaller red, or Mexican wolf. Protective measures are in place to ensure that populations of both types of wolf will remain in parts of their native habitat.
With about 21 distinct species, foxes comprise the largest group of canids. Foxes are small, ranging in size from 1.5 to 9 kg (3 to 20 lb). They have sharply pointed muzzles, long and bushy tails, and large ears. Many foxes hunt by stalking prey and then leaping on it with a distinctive, stiff-legged pounce. Once thought to be solitary animals, foxes are now known to live in groups of up to six individuals.
The remaining canids are each highly distinctive. Raccoon dogs and bush dogs are the least doglike canids in appearance. Raccoon dogs, found in eastern Asia, have stubby legs, a stout body, short ears, shaggy fur, and a black face mask that resembles a raccoon's. Bush dogs, found only in South and Central America, look more like small bears than dogs: they have short legs, a compact body, and small ears. Bush dogs probably hunt in groups, but they are rare animals and little is known of their biology in the wild.