SciSun: Takin’ a break on the Islands, Mon   Leave a comment

Have you ever heard of the Channel Islands, in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Southern California? Don’t feel bad, unless you live nearby not many people know about them. These are a series of eight small islands – the largest is only about 75 miles total! – and there have never been many people living there. They’re very pretty, with many cliffs and beaches and tall grasses (but no palm trees or surfing – they’re not that kind of islands). Not only have there never been many people on the islands, there haven’t been that many different types of animals, either. In fact, the most significant land animal for thousands of years has been the Island Fox (Urocyon littoralis), a distinct species of fox that is closely related to the Grey Fox found on the mainland. In fact, it’s so closely related it looks, and acts, and lives very much like the Grey Fox, with one important difference – the Island Fox is less than HALF the size of its’ Grey relatives, only about a foot long and weighing less than five pounds! Scientists think that over the thousands of years some foxes decided to live on the islands – maybe they swam, or floated over on a log, or maybe, that long ago, the surfing was much better and a few foxes caught a mondo wave – but over time, with each new generation, the foxes became smaller and smaller until they are the little pocket-size guys they are today. There was less food on the islands, and fewer places to live, and overall a harder life so it was to their benefit not to be so big. But still, they were happy. Another day in Paradise and all that, you know.

However only a few years ago something happened that made life even harder for the foxes, and other native animals of the Channel Islands. Some scientists think new animals were introduced – animals that weren’t there, then suddenly brought by man, and these animals ate the food and took the places Island Foxes lived; or the introduced animals brought diseases with them the foxes couldn’t handle. Also, recently Golden Eagles have been coming and even living on the islands and they prey on the little foxes. An adult Golden Eagle is many times larger than the native fox, so the little guys don’t have much of a chance. In less than ten years the numbers of Island Fox went from thousands, to about a hundred. They were almost gone.

Now, thanks to scientists and researchers and laws that protect the Islands and the native plants and animals that live on them, the Channel Island Fox is coming back! There are over a thousand of them now, and every reason to think the population will keep growing and be healthy. One of the most important actions was to remove all the introduced – non-native –animals like housecats and pigs and even bison. There were all types of species on those islands that didn’t belong. Also, the entire group of islands is almost completely protected so no other harm can come to the plants or animals who call the islands their home. And that really is living the good life, Mon.

Channel Island Fox (Urocyon littoralis)

When you're a little fox, any island is HUGE

 

Get comfortable and learn more about wildlife on the Channel Islands:

http://www.nps.gov/chis/naturescience/island-fox.htm

http://www.lpzoo.org/conservation-science/science-centers/alexander-center-applied-population-biology/reintroductions/cha

http://www.nps.gov/chis/index.htm


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