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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 (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.
In the more northern areas of its range (around Serengeti) they are nocturnal 85% of the time. However, around South Africa they are nocturnal only in the summer and diurnal during the winter.
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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- Paleobiology Database: Otocyon Basic info.
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