Domesticated red fox
|Russian domesticated red fox|
The Russian domesticated red fox is a form of the wild red fox (Vulpes vulpes) which has been domesticated to an extent, under laboratory conditions. They are the result of an experiment which was designed to demonstrate the power of selective breeding to transform species, as described by Charles Darwin in On the Origin of Species. The experiment was purposely designed to replicate the process that had produced dogs from wolves, by recording the changes in foxes, when in each generation only the most tame foxes were allowed to breed. In short order, the descendant foxes became tamer and more dog-like in their behavior.
The program was started in 1959 in the Soviet Union by zoologist Dmitry Belyayev and it has been in continuous operation since. Today, the experiment is under the supervision of Lyudmila Trut, in Russia, at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Novosibirsk.
Initial premise and hypothesis
The experiment was initiated by scientists who were interested in the topic of domestication and the process by which wolves became domesticated dogs. They saw some retention of juvenile traits by adult dogs, both morphological ones, such as skulls that were unusually broad for their length, and behavioral ones, such as whining, barking, and submission.
In a time when centralized political control in the fields of genetics and agriculture promoted Lysenkoism as an official state doctrine, Belyayev's commitment to classical genetics had cost him his job as head of the Department of Fur Animal Breeding at the Central Research Laboratory of Fur Breeding in Moscow in 1948. During the 1950s, he continued to conduct genetic research under the guise of studying animal physiology.
Belyayev believed that the key factor selected for in the domestication of dogs was not size or fertility, but behavior: specifically, tameability. Since behavior is rooted in biology, selecting for tameness and against aggression means selecting for physiological changes in the systems that govern the body's hormones and neurochemicals.
Belyayev decided to test his theory by domesticating foxes, in particular, the silver fox, a dark color mutation of the red fox. He placed a population of them under strong selection pressure for inherent tameness. According to Trut:
The least domesticated foxes, those that flee from experimenters or bite when stroked or handled, are assigned to Class III. Foxes in Class II let themselves be petted and handled but show no emotionally friendly response to experimenters. Foxes in Class I are friendly toward experimenters, wagging their tails and whining. In the sixth generation bred for tameness we had to add an even higher-scoring category. Members of Class IE, the "domesticated elite", are eager to establish human contact, whimpering to attract attention and sniffing and licking experimenters like dogs. They start displaying this kind of behavior before they are one month old. By the tenth generation, 18 percent of fox pups were elite; by the 20th, the figure had reached 35 percent. Today elite foxes make up 70 to 80 percent of our experimentally selected population.
Belyayev and Trut believed that selecting for tameness mimics the natural selection that must have occurred in the ancestral past of dogs, and, more than any other quality, must have determined how well an animal would adapt to life among humans.
Russian scientists achieved a population of domesticated foxes that are fundamentally different in temperament and behavior from their wild forebears. Some important changes in physiology and morphology became visible, such as mottled or spotted colored fur. Some scientists believe that these changes obtained from selection for tameness are caused by lower adrenaline production in the new population, causing physiological changes within relatively few generations yielding genetic combinations not present in the original species. This indicates that selection for tameness, e.g. did not flee, produces changes that are related to the emergence of other dog-like traits, e.g. raised tail, coming into heat every six months rather than annually. These seemingly unrelated changes are a result of pleiotropy.p. 5
Current project status
Following the demise of the Soviet Union, the project ran into serious financial problems. In 2014, officials stated that the number of foxes was never reduced and is still stable at about 2,000. As of August 2016[update], there are 270 tame vixens and 70 tame males on the farm.
The sculpture "Dmitriy Belyaev and the Domesticated Fox" was built near Institute of Cytology and Genetics (Novosibirsk) the honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dmitry Konstantinovich Belyaev. The tamed fox gives the scientist a paw and wags its tail. Konstantin Zinich, sculptor (Krasnoyarsk) says "The philosophy of touching a fox and a man is rapprochement, kindness, there is no aggression from the fox – it was wild, and he made it genetically domesticated."
Russian domesticated foxes exhibit a variety of coat color mutations, including red, silver (black), platinum, cross, and Georgian white, the lattermost being a color exclusive to the Russian breeding project.
Archaeologists have discovered evidence of fox breeding in the late Iron Age on Orkney, off the northern coast of Scotland. After the attack of the Vikings in Scotland around A.D. 800, the breeding is said to have stopped.
- Dmitry Belyayev's fox experiment
- Experimental evolution
- Fuegian dog, an extinct domesticated South American fox
- Genomics of domestication
- List of domesticated animals
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- В Новосибирске открыли памятник ученому с доброй лисой
- http://livingwithfoxes.weebly.com/red-fox-colour-mutations.html Archived 2017-11-07 at the Wayback Machine Red Fox Colour Mutations
- An online note is available via WayBack Machine:
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- eMail service of USA Fur Commission