Bat-Eared Fox: Th Only Extant Species Of The Genus Otocyon

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Many of us love exotic pets, and the bat-eared fox is one of them for so many reasons. However, today we talk about the ones that live in the wild, not the ones that share the house with exotic pet owners. There is so much more about them than just their adorable appearance and those cute large ears. You will find out extra information about the lovely bat-eared fox below, so take a look.

1Appearance

This fox species is famous for its enormous ears that can grow up to 13 centimeters (5 inches) long. This pair of large ears bring them an incredible sense of hearing in the wild, especially for detecting danger and opportunities. Those ears are full of tiny blood vessels which help to keep them cool on hot days. A bat-eared fox is sandy gray overall with light fur on the belly. There is dark fur at the back of the ears, muzzle, feet, around the eyes, and on the bushy tail tip. Bat-eared foxes use their long bushy black tails as a rudder when attacked. The tails allow them to change directions nimbly and quickly although they are not fast enough to outrun some predators.

Another fascinating thing about the bat-eared foxes is that they have more teeth (46 to 50) than most mammals. Generally, other members of the dog family have 2 upper and 3 lower molars on each side of their mouths. As for the bat-eared foxes, they have 3 upper and 4 lower molars on each side. The special thing is that their lower jaw is elongated and highly flexible which allows them to pull up dozens of insects. A bat-eared fox can open and close its jaw 5 times per second with help from a special digastric muscle. At the same time, their tiny teeth are also extremely pointy and sharp. These teeth allow them to efficiently and quickly chew their meals to aid digestion.

2Behavior

Bat-eared foxes are social animals, and they live either in pairs or small groups of 2 to 5 individuals. The core of the family is a male and female that mate for life; however, bat-eared foxes are polygamous. So after a year or two, the male will often take on a second wife. As the family increases, the male can even get a third long-term mate. These canines spend most of the day sleeping and come together at dusk for playtime and social grooming. The unique thing is that the males will babysit, groom, play, and rear their young while the females go hunting. As nocturnal hunters, bat-eared foxes forage throughout the night as the dusk falls looking for prey. They take a break to rest around midnight then forage again until dawn.

When hunting, the fox walks slowly with its nose close to the ground and ears cocked. Once it locates the insects, it digs or jumps quickly to catch and crunch them up right on the spot. Sometimes they travel up to 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) each night when looking for food. The unique thing is that this fox species is not territorial so their range seems to overlap a lot. This is why it is not unusual to find groups of bat-eared foxes occupying the same area. No matter where they live, all bat-eared foxes communicate with each other using their ears and tail. There are 9 calls that they use, and 7 of them are low-pitched calls they use within the group. Along with that, there is also a wide variety of soft whistles that the foxes use.

3Feeding & Habitat

Up to 70% of the bat-eared foxes consist mainly of insects including dung beetles and their larvae, grasshoppers, millipedes scorpions, spiders, etc. Their favorite insects are ants and (harvesting) termites, and they also feed on eggs, fruits, lizards, rodents, and small mammals. Thanks to their large ears, these foxes are able to locate even the beetle larvae underneath the ground. More than that, they usually feed on mice in the dry season and rainy season. These foxes seldom drink water since they can obtain most of the moisture they need from their food.

Native to Africa, the bat-eared foxes live in dry short-grass brush and savannas in eastern and southern parts of the continent. Their prime habitats are areas with bare ground, but they also live in arid and semi-arid scrubland and savannas as well. In those areas are den holes that the foxes dug using their sharp and strong claws. Sometimes they also use old termite mounds as dens, and expand them using those claws. A bat-eared fox family can have several dens, and each of which has many chambers, entrances, and tunnels. Mostly, they are often seen in areas where the domestic and ungulates come to graze. If threatened, these foxes will venture into the tall grass and thick shrub areas instead.

4Predators & Threats

Predators that prey on bat-eared foxes are cheetahs, eagles, hyenas, jackals, leopards, lions, and even African wild dogs. Pups are vulnerable to smaller predators like the black-backed jackal and the martial eagle. Both adult and young bat-eared foxes are easy for large predators to catch because of their small size. This is why even birds of prey can easily swoop them; hence their preference in hanging out at night.

Indigenous people in Botswana hunt bat-eared foxes for their pelts while they are hunting trophies in South Africa. Sometimes farmers kill them because they are believed to be pests and threats to young livestock. Apart from those, poison and traps that humans use also result in a number of their death as well. Another threat to their population is diseases such as canine distemper virus, canine parvovirus, and rabies. At the same time, drought and habitat loss also threaten their lives at the moment. The good thing is that bat-eared foxes are still abundant in the world these days.

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