Snow Show

The snowstorm appears to be leaving us just as rapidly as it came. Slush accumulating in the gutters, snow dripping from the trees, daffodil shoots revealed again after their abrupt disappearing act under the white blanket.

Still, there is a mediocre quantity of snow left in the garden, enough to produce a pretty scenic photo of a fox had any been in the mood to cooperate.

Needless to say, they weren't :irked: but I did get one interesting behaviour shot, heavily Photoshopped to compensate for terrible light and a quick moving fox. The Old Dogfox was tossed some cheese as photography bait. He took it, immediately cached it in a snow-free patch of the garden, and then started to dig in the snow itself.

I assume that he (or one of the vixens, although foxes don't generally find each other's caches) had buried some food there earlier. Here's a riddle that ecological statisticans would enjoy. He had to hand the fresh food (the cheese) and an old cache. Presumably the fresh food is more nutritionally valuable than the old. Like all wild animals, he cannot guarantee any future meal. He has to gamble whether his current needs are greater than his future ones. Should he:

a) eat the fresh food now and risk the old cache becoming useless (or stolen)?
b) bury the fresh food until it turns into an old cache, and eat the current old cache?

Or to phrase that another way, is one good meal better than two potentially poor ones? This is the kind of problem that ecological scientists work out mathematically – energy being the currency of the wild and all that – but, it's interesting to me that the Old Dogfox did select the old cache tonight and left the cheese behind. Perhaps he would behave differently in the autumn when high quality food is plentiful?

One other nice sighting – a wren. 🙂

No more snow is forecast this week 😦 but, it was nice while it lasted anyhow…

About Adele Brand

UEA Ecology grad, typically sighted in the company of a tall graceful Belgian shephard dog and often trying to carrying a big camera around. Dislikes urban habitat but is comfortable in either prairie or mountain biomes. Frequently watching, or being watched by, foxes.
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10 Responses to Snow Show

  1. volkuro says:

    The dilemma between fresh food and old cache is interesting. I was not aware of these behaviours among foxes.

  2. SittingFox says:

    Game theory…what decisions to make in the wild :confused: Scientists use it and similar theories for all kinds of things, from how many worms a starling should take back to its chicks to what size prey a predator should tackle. Some days I think scientists would like to turn everything in existance into a neat series of numbers 🙄

  3. anonymous says:

    Zachary writes:Can canids plan? I thought that was a cognitive ability exclusive to the neocortices of humans. I know many animals are smart enough to "connect the dots" so to speak on multiple levels, but can they do it in a future tense? (You note that the fox was digging at an old cache, did he find and eat something there? Or did he come up with nothing? (After which, did he go back and eat the cheese he buried?))

  4. SittingFox says:

    I'd say animals are definitely capable of associating current events with future ones (for example, one of our old dogs became incredibly morose if she saw us packing, as she anticipated being left alone even while we were still there with her). Some of the more intelligent species may be able to plan. I have read that the area of the brain that deals with reasoning is very highly developed in wolves and I would have thought some degree of planning would be highly beneficial given their hunting techniques.But in this vulpine scenario planning per se wouldn't be necessary, as natural selection has shaped the behaviour of wild animals (and humans) to dictate certain choices, or just favour behaviours that have a survival value. Unlike wolves, squirrels don't appear to remember where they cache food but they bury food instinctively in areas where they (or another squirrel ;)) are likely to search.I thought the Old Dogfox did eat something when he was digging on the 8th. And yes, I saw him digging last night where he had cached the cheese! I didn't see him eat it though; perhaps he was checking it was still there? (I have seen captive wolves cache food and then be visibly alarmed by another wolf unwittingly strolling across the hidden cache!)

  5. anonymous says:

    Zachary writes:Thanks for your answer, also on that note, I know that one of the functions of tameness is a decrease in skull size (as per Belyaev again and also as per dogs vs. wolves). What do you think is lost in the decrease in skull size? If the brain decreases in size, which behaviors are dropped?(I suppose another way to phrase this question is, "Excluding fear response, what is the difference between wild animals and domesticated animals, that the skull size has shrunken? IS it fear response?")

  6. SittingFox says:

    Humans have selected dogs for so many traits, it's hard to pin just one down with physiological changes. Going back to the caching, it was clear to me that the captive wolf knew what he was doing and why (he even dug a second hole to gather sufficent mud to bury his bone) whereas a dog, even one almost as intelligent as a wolf, doesn't appear to know why it is doing this ancient behaviour. Dogs are quite capable of working problems out, of course, but there probably are now defunct behaviours existing just as instincts in most domestic species.The size of brain in proportion to the animal's body is in general considered an indicator of intelligence. Kelly's about at the top of the scale for dogs and she was virtually uncontrollable as a yearling! I can imagine that the average wolf would end up running a human household :eyes: Though when I met two "domesticated" rescue wolves raised by humans, they just didn't seem as alive to me as the wild wolves I've seen. Is there "education" given to a young animal by its own kind that we humans simply cannot replicate, perhaps?One interesting point – lions (Panthera leo, not mountain lions) have a larger brain size per body size than tigers, and this is associated with their complex social behaviour.

  7. anonymous says:

    Zachary writes:Here is the kicker question this has all led up to:Does a larger brain size in any animal correlate with more social behavior, and the complexity of such behavior? (Your previous answer already indicates this)I know dolphins have quite a large brain, as do elephants, for mammals, and both of these species are also social. (How big is a whale brain?)

  8. SittingFox says:

    Hmm…I've read that sperm whales have the largest brains of any animal. Also that the extinct Atrox lion had a larger brain than existing lions. I don't suppose complex social behaviour is a prerequisite of high intelligence (think of black bears) but the reverse would seem to be true. As to whether there's been a study across a wide range of mammal families to look for a statistical correlation between brain size and social grouping – there should have been, but without my ATHENS password I cannot get into the e-journal database to check 😥 (One of my chief gripes at the moment is how hard it is for the general public, at least in the UK to access journals. I buy Conservation Biology but when at the UEA I had free access to hundreds of journals, all searchable online.)

  9. anonymous says:

    Zachary writes:Thanks again for taking the time to answer my questions, cheers on your blog's birthday 🙂

  10. SittingFox says:

    You're welcome Zachary, and thanks! :hat:

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