Overview

Brief Summary

The Bat eared fox according to MammalMAP

Bat eared foxes (Otocyon megalotis) are rare canids.  They’ve pretty much abandoned their mammalian prey in favour of an insectivorous diet.  The most outstanding feature of this small, tawny mammal is its huge ears in relation to its body.   These ears make it possible to home in on sounds of insect activity.  Their teeth are adapted for their diet too.  Bat eared foxes have many small teeth, approximately 46 – 50, great for munching on critters.

Bat eared foxes are mainly nocturnal and rest in their burrows during the day.  Their diet consists of mostly insects (harvester termites and beetles) but in the absence of insects, they also feed on birds, eggs, non-insect arthropods, lizards and small mammals.  Insects not only fulfil their nutrient intake but fulfil their water requirements as well.

Bat eared foxes form social groups similar to our own – consisting of a mating pair and their offspring.  Adult foxes are usually monogamous and breed annually resulting in 2 – 5 cubs born between October and January.  Both parents are highly invested in rearing its young.  Fatherswill guard the pups at the den while their mother is out foraging.  Individuals in the group engage often in social grooming and play.  They will also sleep together in the den.  After reaching full maturity, most offspring disperse at the start of breeding season.

According to the IUCN, bat eared foxes are classified as a species of Least Concern.

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Distribution

Range Description

The Bat-eared Fox has a disjunct distribution range, occurring across the arid and semi-arid regions of eastern and southern Africa in two discrete populations (representing each of the known subspecies) separated by about 1,000 km. O. m. virgatus ranges from southern Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia down through Uganda and Kenya to south-western Tanzania; O. m. megalotis occurs from Angola through Namibia and Botswana to Mozambique and South Africa (Coetzee 1977; Kingdon 1977; Skinner and Smithers 1990). The two ranges were probably connected during the Pleistocene (Coe and Skinner 1993). This disjunct distribution is similar to that of other endemic, xeric species e.g., Aardwolf (Proteles cristatus) and Black-backed Jackal (Canis mesomelas).

Range extensions in southern Africa documented in recent years (e.g., Stuart 1981; Marais and Griffin 1993) have been linked to changing rainfall patterns (MacDonald 1982).
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Geographic Range

Two populations are known, one from Ethiopia and southern Sudan to Tanzania; the other from southern Angola and Rhodesia to South Africa.

Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

The bat-eared fox's name comes from its enormous ears, which are 114 to 135 mm long. The body is generally yellow-brown; the throat and underparts are pale; the outsides of the ears, raccoon-like "face-mask," lower legs, feet, and tail tip are black. Besides the large ears, the bat-eared fox is set apart from other foxes by its unique dentition. It has more teeth than any other heterodont placental mammal with a total between 46 and 50 (Nowak, 1983). Whereas in all other canids there are no more than two upper and three lower molars, the bat-eared fox has at least three upper and four lower molars. On the lower jaw, a large step-like protrusion anchors the large digastric muscle that is used for rapid chewing of insects. The legs are relatively short.

Range mass: 3 to 5.3 kg.

Range length: 460 to 660 mm.

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
In southern Africa, the prime habitat is mainly short-grass plains and areas with bare ground (Mackie and Nel 1989), but they are also found in open scrub vegetation and arid, semi-arid or winter rainfall (fynbos or Cape macchia) shrub lands, and open arid savanna. The range of both subspecies overlaps almost completely with that of Hodotermes and Microhodotermes, termite genera prevailing in the diet (Mackie and Nel 1989; Maas 1993a). In the Serengeti, they are common in open grassland and woodland boundaries but not short-grass plains (Lamprecht 1979; Malcolm 1986); harvester termite (H. mossambicus) foraging holes and dung from migratory ungulates are more abundant in areas occupied by bat-eared foxes, while grass is shorter and individual plants are more widely spaced (Maas 1993a).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Bat-eared foxes are found in arid grasslands and savannas, preferring areas where the grass is short. They are capable diggers and live in dens that are dug by the foxes themselves or those left by other animals such as aardvarks. Dens have multiple entrances and chambers and several meters of tunnels. A family may have several dens in its home range.

Habitat Regions: terrestrial

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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Their diet primarily consists of insects and other arthropods, and occasionally small rodents, lizards, the eggs and chicks of birds, and plant matter. The Harvester termite (Hodotermes) and dung beetles (Scarabidae) can make up 80 percent of the fox's diet (Macdonald, 1984). According to Delany and Happold (1979), bat-eared foxes obtain much of their water from the body fluids of these insects. The termites often feed on grass above ground, where they are then eaten by the foxes. Because large herbivores such as wildebeest, zebra and buffalo also feed on this grass, bat-eared foxes are usually found near large herds of these hoofed animals. Furthermore, bat-eared foxes are also associated with these mammals since they eat the dung beetles that feed on and lay eggs in the ungulate's feces. The foxes use their large ears to listen for beetle larvae gnawing their way out of the dung balls (Macdonald, 1984). Bat-eared foxes usually forage alone. However, where insect prey is abundant, bat-eared foxes may occur in very high densities. They can actually harvest more termites by foraging in a group than if they hunted separately over the same ground at the same time (Estes, 1991).

Animal Foods: birds; mammals; reptiles; eggs; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods

Primary Diet: carnivore (Insectivore )

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Associations

Predation

To escape from predators, the bat-eared fox relies on speed and its incredible dodging ability. It can effectively reverse direction at a flat run without losing speed (Estes, 1991).

Bat-eared foxes are susceptible to predators down to the size of jackals and eagles. Diurnal birds of prey generally represent the greatest threat for young bat-eared foxes (Estes, 1991).

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Known prey organisms

Otocyon megalotis preys on:
non-insect arthropods
Insecta
Reptilia
Aves
Mammalia

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Life History and Behavior

Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

One captive individual lived for 13 years and 9 months.

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
14 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
13.8 years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
6.0 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 17 years (captivity) Observations: They are full grown in half a year (Ronald Nowak 1999). One wild caught specimen was about 17 years old when it died in captivity (Richard Weigl 2005).
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Reproduction

Bat eared foxes are usually monogamous; a few observations have suggested that sometimes there may be two females with one male, and one record exists of communal nursing (Macdonald, 1984).

Mating System: monogamous

Bat-eared foxes breed annually, in self-dug dens. Pups' eyes open at 9 days and they emerge from the den at 17 days. Newborns are sparsely covered with gray underfur and change to adult color by 4-5 weeks. Offspring are suckled for 15 weeks before beginning to forage with their parents. Pups are full grown by 5 or 6 months.After reaching maturity, most disperse at the breeding season. Some young females may stay with their natal group and breed. Males participate in guarding, grooming, and playing with the young as much as or even more than the mother. Mating behavior has not been described in the wild, but in a zoo, a pair mated 10 times a day for a week (Estes, 1991). The female showed no estrous swelling. The male followed the female intently, licking her vulva and periodically mounted. After intromission, the pair remained tied, as in many canids (Estes, 1991).

Breeding season: September to November

Range number of offspring: 2 to 6.

Average number of offspring: 3.2.

Range gestation period: 60 to 70 days.

Range weaning age: 30 (low) days.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 8 to 9 months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 8 to 9 months.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); viviparous

Average birth mass: 122 g.

Average number of offspring: 4.

Parental Investment: altricial ; extended period of juvenile learning

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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Nel, J.A.J. & Maas, B.

Reviewer/s
Sillero-Zubiri, C. & Hoffmann, M. (Canid Red List Authority)

Contributor/s

Justification
The Bat-eared Fox occurs in two discrete subpopulations in eastern and southern Africa. The species is common in conservation areas, becoming uncommon in arid areas and on farms in South Africa where they are occasionally persecuted. Currently not considered threatened.

History
  • 2004
    Least Concern
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CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Population

Population
The species is common in conservation areas in southern and eastern Africa, becoming uncommon in arid areas and on farms in South Africa where they are occasionally persecuted. Within a circumscribed habitat, numbers can fluctuate from abundant to rare depending on rainfall, food availability (Waser 1980; Nel et al. 1984), breeding stage and disease (Maas 1993a,b; Nel 1993).

Population Trend
Unknown
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Threats

Major Threats
In southern Africa the primary threats are hunting for skins or because they are perceived as being predators of small livestock. Commercial use is very limited, but winter pelts are valued and sold as blankets. They are also sold as hunting trophies in South Africa. Populations fluctuate due to disease or drought.
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
The species is not included in the CITES Appendices.

Occurs in protected areas in Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Bat-eared Foxes are kept in captivity in North America, Europe, South Africa and Asia, although never in large numbers. There are no management programmes or studbooks for the species in any of these regions. Importations have occurred throughout the history of the captive population despite successful captive breeding since 1970. Bat-eared foxes can coexist well with other species and are frequently seen in African plains exhibits at zoos.

There is a conspicuous lack of information about both abundance and population trends in this species across its range. In southern Africa, little is known about dispersal of young and the formation of new breeding pairs. The causal factors for differences in home range size in different localities, group size and changes in density as a function of food availability are poorly known. In the Serengeti, behavioural evidence on group and pair formation and the existence of 'super families', consisting of one male and up to three closely related breeding females, raises interesting questions about regular inbreeding between males and their daughters from several generations (see Maas 1993a).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There is no apparent commercial use of bat-eared foxes, but they are hunted in Botswana for their pelts by indigenous people.

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Wikipedia

Bat-eared fox

The bat-eared fox (Otocyon megalotis) is a canid of the African savanna, named for its large ears. Fossil records show this canid to first appear during the middle Pleistocene, about 800,000 years ago.[3]

The bat-eared fox (also referred to as big-eared fox, black-eared fox, cape fox, and Delalande’s fox) has tawny fur with black ears, legs and parts of the pointed face. It averages 55 cm in length (head and body), with ears 13 cm long. It is the only species in the genus Otocyon.[1] The name Otocyon is derived from the Greek words "otus" for ear and "cyon" for dog, while the specific name "megalotis" comes from the Greek words "mega" for large and "otus" for ear.[4]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Bat eared fox at the Prague Zoo

Two distinct populations of bat-eared foxes occur in Africa. O. m. megalotis occurs in the southern regions including southern Zambia, Angola, and South Africa. O. m. virgatus occurs in Ethiopia and southern South Sudan extending to Tanzania.[4]

The bat-eared fox commonly occurs in short grass lands as well as the more arid regions of the savanna. In addition to raising their young in dens, bat-eared foxes use self-dug dens for shelter from extreme temperatures and winds.[4]

Diet[edit]

The bat-eared fox is predominantly an insectivore that uses its large ears to locate its prey. 80–90% of their diet is harvester termites, (Hodotermes mossambicus). When this particular species of termite is not available bat-eared foxes feed on other species of termites and have also been observed consuming ants, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, millipedes, moths, scorpions, spiders, and rarely birds, small mammals, reptiles and fungi (the desert truffle Kalaharituber pfeilii[5]). The insects they eat fulfill the majority of their water intake needs.[4]

Dentition[edit]

The teeth of the bat-eared fox are much smaller and reduced in sheering surface formation than teeth of other canid species. This is an adaptation to its insectivorous diet.[6] Due to its unusual teeth, the bat-eared fox was once considered as a distinct subfamily of canids (Otocyoninae). However, according to more recent examinations, it is more closely related to the true foxes of the genus Vulpes.[citation needed] Other research places the genus as an outgroup which is not very closely related to foxes. The bat-eared fox is an old species that was widely distributed in the Pleistocene era.

Behavior[edit]

Reproduction[edit]

The bat-eared fox is predominantly monogamous, although it has been observed in polygynous groups. In contrast to other canids, the bat-eared fox has a reversal in parental roles with the male taking on the majority of the parental care behavior. Females gestate for 60–70 days and give birth to litters consisting of 1 to 6 kits. Beyond lactation, which lasts 14 to 15 weeks,[4] males take over grooming, defending, huddling, chaperoning, and carrying the young between den sites. Additionally, male care and den attendance rates have been shown to have a direct correlation with cub survival rates.[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Wozencraft, W. C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  2. ^ Nel, J.A.J. & Maas, B. (2008). Otocyon megalotis. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 22 March 2009. Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
  3. ^ Paleobiology Database: Otocyon Basic info.
  4. ^ a b c d e Clark, H. O. (2005). "Otocyon megalotis". Mammalian Species 766: 1–0. doi:10.1644/1545-1410(2005)766[0001:OM]2.0.CO;2.  edit
  5. ^ Trappe JM, Claridge AW, Arora D, Smit WA. (2008). "Desert truffles of the Kalahari: ecology, ethnomycology and taxonomy". Economic Botany 62 (3): 521–529. doi:10.1007/s12231-008-9027-6. 
  6. ^ Kieser, J.A. (May 1995). "Gnathomandibular Morphology and Character Displacement in the Bat-eared Fox". Journal of Mammalogy 76 (2): 542–550. doi:10.2307/1382362. 
  7. ^ Wright, Harry William Yorkstone (2006). "Paternal den attendance is the best predictor of offspring survival in the socially monogamous bat-eared fox". Animal Behaviour 71 (3): 503–510. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2005.03.043. 
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