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Members of the family Canidae are distinguished from other carnivore families by pair bonding and male care of the young. Because of the importance of food provisioning and territorial defence by males, social structure among canids is shared or even dominated by males. However, small, insectivorous species of canids show little male parental care, although whether social structure differs from other canids is unknown. We combined data from three independent research projects on a small canid, the swift fox, to help elucidate the social organization of this species. Based on data on movements of 35 adult mated pairs and the fate of litters, we found that adult females maintained territories and family structure, whereas adult males tended to emigrate. This is the first evidence of a female-based social organization among any canid species. This type of social organization probably resulted from the decreased importance of territorial defence and food provisioning by males, as their diet is primarily insectivorous during summer when young are weaned. Our results, along with others, indicate that variations in social structure among canid species are strongly influenced by the importance of food provisioning and territorial defence by males.