Bat-eared Fox – February 2011

Shot of the Month – February 2011

This month we will learn a bit about the adorable, but often hard to find bat-eared fox (BeF).  I photographed the one shown here in the Kalahari Desert of Botswana.

BeF’s are found in one of two distinct populations, either in South West Africa (Namibia, Botswana, certain parts of Zimbabawe and South Africa) or in East Africa (Tanzania, Ethiopia, Sudan).

Fun February Fox Facts:

  • Insectivore:  BeFs eat primarily insects!  They are the only member of the Canidae family (foxes, wolves, dogs, jackals, and coyotes) to give up eating mammals.  BeFs are especially fond of harvester termites (but who isn’t, really?).  They also dine on grasshoppers, scorpions, dung beetle larvae, millipedes, lizards, fruits, and eggs.  That being said, they really prefer to eat insects.
  • Good for Sailing  BeFs only stand 12-15 inches tall at the shoulder while their ears can be over 5 inches tall!  (Some quick math tells us that their ears represent 25-30% of their total height).  Think Dumbo, but as a fox…
  • Whispering Won’t Help:  Bat-eared foxes hunt by walking slowly, nose close to the ground, with ears cocked forward.  As they walk they listen for insects on or under the surface of the earth.  How good is that hearing?  Well, BeFs can locate termites from the sound they make while chewing on grass.  More amazingly they can hear and then find dung beetle larvae chewing their way out of a dung ball located 12 inches underground.
  • Termite Control:  Reportedly, one BeF can eat over 1 million termites in a year.
  • Specialized Jaws:  BeF have grown extra teeth to chew up insects.  Most foxes have 42 teeth, BeFs have 48.  BeFs also have specialized lower jaws that allow for ultra rapid biting to quickly stun, kill, and eat small insects.
  • Dangerous World:  Due to their small stature just about every predator picks on the BeF: Lions, leopards, cheetah, hyenas, rock pythons, and wild dogs.  Even large raptors will hunt BeFs.
  • Night Life:  To avoid the dangers mentioned above BeFs are generally nocturnal.  This is not foolproof, however – lions and leopards are also nocturnal.
  • On the Road:  In a given night a BeF can walk over 7 miles in search of food.
  • All in the Family:  BeFs tend to mate for life and the males are devoted parents.

The bat-eared fox –the delightful under-dog of the plains.  Given their good looks, exceptional talents and commendable behavior you can’t help but root for them.

Until next month… 🙂