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Fox Sex

August 29, 2007

Scientists used to think arctic foxes were monogamous, but new research reveals a different mating strategy may be advantageous.


Hanky-panky in the high Arctic. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

In foxes, wolves and coyotes, males and females often share parental duties, bringing in food and protecting the young. For a long time, researchers thought these species were monogamous. But a recent study of arctic foxes on Bylot Island in Canada suggests otherwise. University of Alberta biologist Lindsey Carmichael and her colleagues took DNA samples from 49 arctic foxes. Carmichael analyzed the DNA fingerprints of the babies and found that some of the furry canines had different fathers from their siblings.

LINDSEY CARMICHAEL (University of Alberta):
What we found was that in 75% of the dens the foxes were monogamous but in the other 25%, they were not.

Carmichael thinks increasing the genetic diversity of a mother’s litter in any given year could increase the odds that one or more of her pups will survive. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.