Red Fox

Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) are the largest of all foxes and live in many diverse habitats around the world, including forests, grasslands, mountains, deserts and even human environments. They generally have a red or brown colored fur, with traces of white on their chin, throat, chest and tail. Red foxes are omnivores with a highly variable diet, feeding on rodents, rabbits, birds and other small animals, as well as plants, fruits and human leftovers, depending on availability. The animals are most active between dusk and dawn, and while they typically forage on their own, red foxes are known to live together in pairs or in small families. They breed in winter, after which the females, or vixens, give birth to litters of up to twelve pups in spring. The young foxes are raised by both parents and may leave the litter in the following fall to establish their own territory if conditions are favorable, or stay behind to help raise subsequent litters. Because of their inventiveness and ability to adapt to new environments, foxes have traditionally been associated with intelligence and cunning.

Information sources: National Geographic, WWF

Image: Red fox sniffing the air in the grasslands of San Juan, Washington, USA. Credit: Minette Layne, Wikimedia Commons.

Sahara desert may be older than previously thought

New findings of climatologists published in Nature reveal that the formation of the Sahara desert may have started up to 7 million years ago, more than twice as long ago as previously thought. Following the discovery of aeolian dune deposits that challenged the widely accepted age of approximately 2 – 3 million years for the Sahara desert, the scientists have used climate models to simulate the mechanisms behind the onset of aridification in northern Africa. Their results show that the origination of the Sahara desert may be related to shrinking of the Tethys Sea and the uplift of the Arabian Peninsula, associated with the northward movement of the African tectonic plate towards the Eurasian tectonic plate during the late Miocene. This reorganization of landmasses is thought to have significantly weakened the African summer monsoon, resulting in a reduced flow of moisture from the Atlantic Ocean and increasingly arid conditions in northern Africa. Until now, it was long believed that the desertification of northern Africa was related to the onset of glaciation on the Northern Hemisphere during the Pliocene and Pleistocene.

Journal reference: Zhang, Z., Ramstein, G., Schuster, M., Li, C., Contoux, C., & Yan, Q. (2014). Aridification of the Sahara desert caused by Tethys Sea shrinkage during the Late Miocene. Nature, 513(7518), 401-404.

Image: Sand dunes of the Sahara desert at sunset in Fezzan, Libya. Source: Luca Galuzzi, Wikimedia Commons.