Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Friday, October 23, 2009


Richard Muirhead is an old friend of the CFZ. I have been friends with him for 40 years now, since we were kids together in Hong Kong. He is undoubtedly one of the two best researchers I have ever met; he and Nigel Wright both have what Charlie Fort would have no doubt called a wild talent: a talent for going into a library, unearthing a stack of old newspapers, and coming back with some hitherto overlooked gem of arcane knowledge. He is now sharing those archives with us on an almost daily basis.

Dear folks,

Here`s another selection of notes from Muirhead Archives in Muirhead Mansions. Actualy 'Fortean foxes' is a bit of a misnomer because I am only looking at odd colouration in foxes today, not the whole range of Fortean possibilities in foxes. I hope you enjoy the following and if you have any more observations please can you contact Jon or myself? Thanks.

I found a note in a book called The Sedgefield Country in the Seventies and Eighties (and that meant the 1870s and 1880s) about a male blue - yes blue - fox in Mainforth-whin, in what I thought was the West Country. But I have just done a Google search on the names Sedgefield and Mainforth-whin and I could only find a Sedgefield in Co. Durham, once Tony Blair`s constituency. This is the only instance of a blue fox in Britain that I am aware of. The next time I go to the Bodleian Library in Oxford or the British Library I will try to look at this book, which I found in a charity shop in Taunton earlier this year.

Some time in 1995 Jan Williams (through whom I 'rediscovered' Jon after our time in Hong Kong) wrote to me about albino foxes and other things:

“A pure white fox was killed in 1887 by Taunton Vale Hounds in West Somerset.” This is in Man and Beast by Ron Freethy (?) Blandford 1983.(1)

In Country Sportsman 1949 (page number unknown) there is a story: `Albino Foxes In Northumberland A Strain That Persists Around Rothbury`

`In the year 1937 a white fox was killed in the grounds of Brinkburn Priory almost within sight of the River Coquet by the Percy Hounds. The mask is now believed to be at Alnwick Castle*, the property of the Duke of Northumberland. In the spring of the same year,Richardson, a keeper on the Cragside Estate further west along the Coquet Valley, dug out a white vixen which had two cubs of normal colour. On Tuesday,15th 1938, the Morpeth Foxhounds, whilst hunting in the east part of their country, roused and quickly killed a pure-white fox. The mask, beautifully mounted, is now at Meldon Hall. The tips of the ears and brush are black, the eyes yellowish and lighter than the eyes of a normal fox, and there is none of the pink colouration one associates with the true albino….Later in the season another white fox was reported as being seen by the rabbit catcher at Paxton Dene, but no further trace of it was found. This outcrop of albinism naturally caused a good deal of local interest and there were many wild and fantastic theories as to the cause of this phenomenon. One of the most popular was that these white foxes had all been fathered by a silver dog fox which, by a strange coincidence,had escaped early in the spring of 1937 from a silver-fox farm in the neighbourhood of Capheaton,not very far,as a fox will travel,from the Coquet banks….In 1947 the keeper at Linden Hall, which lies about a mile north of Paxton Dene, reported having seen a white fox in the Dene. This man`s evidence can be taken as reliable…..The seed of this white breed, I feel sure, originated somewhere amongst the rocky, rhododendron-grown hills above Rothbury and, from time to time ,it keeps cropping up as it is handed down from father to son.'(2)

* Coincidentaly I will be at the Franciscan friary in Alnmouth near Alnwick in mid-November so I will see if I can see the mask at the Castle.

Jumping forwards 38 years to The Mail on Sunday August 30th 1987, `Lair of the little white foxes` by Dr Brendan Quayle, which told of with two white cubs, one of which was shot the other “booted to death”(3). 'According to David Bellamy* the birth of an albino or white-skinned specimen of a wild or even domesticated creature, unless specially bred, is very rare.' (4) One fox was shot. The story continued concerning the killing of the other fox: '…It was two teenage sons of a local farmers who killed the other white cub and one of its red brothers from the same litter. "Why did you do it?" I asked them bitterly this week. "Foxes are vermin and we were worried they were going for our geese," they told me.'(5) Quayle speculated their white pelts would end up at a taxidermist.

* I wrote to David Bellamy four or five months ago about this story but received no reply. The above incident was in the Border country between England and Scotland. Perhaps the same location as in the Country Sportsman article?

According to Roger Burrows in A Complete Study of The Red Fox (1988) :

'There are records of white, presumably albino, foxes from Dartmoor, and at least five records of them from Whaddon Chase.”… “Russian authors mention blue and silver foxes as being present in the northern of the red foxes` range, so not all the blue foxes in northern Europe need necessarily be descended from the feral North American form.' (6)

The Wild About Forum on the Net reported an eyewitness sighting of a white fox near the Wirral. This was on May 2nd 2006. 'Lemming' thought it was a dog but later: '..This morning I saw it streaking across the field in front of my house, grabbed my binoculars and saw it was a white fox. White from head to hind legs then it turned a peachy colour. How lovely!!! Just wanted to share my sitings with you all.' (7)

On the same Forum in September 2007 there was some interesting communication about black and other coloured foxes. On September 22nd John (in Coventry) said: 'I have just had a shock. I was looking out of my bedroom window and a scrawny looking Black Fox walked past my Bungalow…I have never seen a Black Fox before and must admit that I didn`t know they could be that colour. It wasn`t a full on black but dark enough to be able to pass for black.' (8)

C C replied giving instances of a black one in Maesycmmer near Caerphilly and one on September 21st 2007 'on the fields by Carmarthen Bay' with 'a black stripe down back, with a stripe running down shoulder blades.' (9) C C saw three silver foxes in the past four years in Carmarthen.

Finally, on September 18th 2008 a newspaper website reported the sighting of a black fox on the outskirts of Chorley, Lancashire: Mr Hehir, from Preston, Lancashire, was walking in a cemetery with a friend when he spotted the animal among the gravestones…..Country villagers traditionally told stories of how the fox was as 'black as night, so that it could live in a man`s shadow and never be seen.' (10)

1.Letter from Jan Williams to R.Muirhead c.1995.

2.Country Sportsman 1949.

3.The Mail on Sunday August 30th 1987 `Lair of the little white foxes`.p.13

4.The Mail on Sunday Ibid p.13

5. The Mail on Sunday Ibid. p.15

6.R.Burrows. A Complete Study of The Fox. (1988) pp71,73

7. http://www.wildaboutbritain.co.uk/ May 2nd 2006

8.www.wildaboutbritain.co.uk September 22nd 2007

9.Ibid September 22nd 2007

10. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/ September 18th 2008.

That`s all for today,friends. Tomorrow: `Talking Turtles.`


Retrieverman said...

Fur-farmed domestic red foxes often come in these colors.

This captive-bred red fox seems to meet the description of some of these animals really well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8SgJYbRFrd0

There are the Belyaev foxes, too, although these are from the Soviet union: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enrLSfxTqZ0

In the native North American population of red foxes, we have lots of black and silver foxes. We also have an intermediate color, called a "cross fox." http://www.ejphoto.com/images_UT/UT_CrossFox07.jpg

It is believed that black and silver foxes existed in the original European red fox population, but these were killed off for their fur early on. In most of the Eastern US, the red fox that lives there is not the native red fox, but a derivative of exactly the same subspecies that exists in England. In fact, the two probably should be considered the same subspecies: http://bss.sfsu.edu/holzman/courses/Spring%2005%20projects/RedFoxCasey/RedFox02.jpg

The subspecies fulva is the one derived from the English red fox, which was imported so that English colonists could go riding to hounds. That particular area was originally home to only a few red foxes and lots of the species called gray fox, which is not a Vulpine fox but very primitive canid in the genus Urocyon. It is not a good thing for hounds to chase because they retain the primitive canid talent for climbing trees. In parts of Latin America, it was called the Gato Cervan "deer-like cat," because they knew it couldn't be dog. Dogs can't climb trees.

Also, one cannot ignore the fact that Arctic foxes were fur-farmed (and still are). The most common phase of the Arctic fox in the fur industry is the blue fox.

In the summer, blues look like this: http://www.ejphoto.com/images_AK/AK_ArcticFox17.jpg


Unlike silvers, blue foxes are actually a different species from the red. The diagnostic for a red fox is that the animal with have very long legs and a white tail tip. (Although that cross fox photo shows one with a very limited white tip!)

Although Arctic foxes are more closely related to the swift and kit foxes of North America (and Arctic foxes have since been moved from the Genus Alopex to the Genus Vulpes to reflect this), red (silver) and Arctic (blue) foxes have hybridized in captivity:


I think this is a good post, but one of the experts in it got confused about the blue foxes. The blues are a separate species-- a color phase of the Arctic fox.

I've generally read that most silver and black foxes (which are red foxes) in existence today come from Atlantic Canada, so if there is a wild Russian population, that is certainly fascinating.

Retrieverman said...

The one with a black stripe down the back sounds like a cross fox.

They are called cross foxes because the black stripe that runs down their backs and another that runs up from their black legs across their shoulders, forming a cross on their backs:

Retrieverman said...

In captivity there are several different colors of the red fox now being bred-- too many colors to count.

Some of the blue Arctic foxes have some white markings: https://91middleschoolscience.wikispaces.com/file/view/Arctic_Fox.jpg (This is in winter coat).

Some blue cubs with those markings (summer coat): http://bioweb.uwlax.edu/bio203/s2008/olson_alex/reproduction.htm

This is what they normally look like: http://www.treknature.com/gallery/photo181526.htm

This litter of Arctics has blue and normal (white) phase cubs: http://cache1.asset-cache.net/xc/dv425013.jpg?v=1&c=IWSAsset&k=2&d=EDF6F2F4F969CEBDB74E030E642B174CD2CA2C7EDC48C69434C488367188741FE30A760B0D811297

The white ones look a lot like swift foxes in the summer: (Arctic) http://retrieverman.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/white-arctic-fox-in-summer.jpg



The swift and Arctic fox are very closely related. I don't know if the Arctic is a swift fox that lives in the tundra and frozen ice or if the swift is an Arctic fox that lives on the prairies. They are also related to the kit fox of the Southwest, which is adapted to living in the desert. http://www.canids.org/gallery/Popup19385.jpg

They have been known to interbreed with Swifts, and at one time were considered the same species.

Retrieverman said...

Now, there is also a platinum coloration of the red fox, which appears blue: http://www.billsbearrugs.com/Inventory2008/Platinum_Fox%281%29.jpg

I have never heard of this color in wild red foxes, so it is most likely a fur-farmed variety. Maybe there are or were real platinum foxes in the wild in Russia.

The only colors I've heard of in the wild are the normal red, the cross, and the black/silver.

The blue and white Arctic varieties do exist in the wild, though.

Retrieverman said...

When Arctic foxes transition from one season's coat to the other, they look bizarre:

1. http://www.papiliophotos.com/SearchImages/P-MAM095-54.jpg

2. http://www.gvzoo.com/files/u2/Arctic_Fox_093_cropped.jpg

3. http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3087/2694994098_9e4d16c3eb.jpg


5. Some blues look chocolatey brown: http://www.naturetrek.co.uk/pics/t346-large2.jpg

6. http://blogs.nationalgeographic.com/blogs/news/chiefeditor/Arctic-Fox-with-goose-egg-picture.jpg

7. http://sierrabirdbum.com/Mammals/Arctic-Fox.jpg