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.
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).
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 )
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.
Habitat and Ecology
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
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 )
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).
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Life History and Behavior
One captive individual lived for 13 years and 9 months.
Status: captivity: 14 (high) years.
Status: captivity: 13.8 years.
Status: captivity: 6.0 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
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
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 2004Least Concern
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
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).
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
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.
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.
The bat-eared fox (Otocyon megalotis)—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. 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.
Distribution and habitat
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.
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.
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). The insects they eat fulfill the majority of their water intake needs.
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. 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. 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.
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, 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.
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