Otocyon megalotisbat-eared fox

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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.

Habitat

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.

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
    6.61 to 11.67 lb
  • Range length
    460 to 660 mm
    18.11 to 25.98 in

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).

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
  • Average number of offspring
    4
    AnAge
  • 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
  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • extended period of juvenile learning

Lifespan/Longevity

One captive individual lived for 13 years and 9 months.

Behavior

85 percent of activity occurs at night in the Serengeti, while in South Africa bat-eared foxes are mainly diurnal in winter and nocturnal in summer. In the Serengeti, one study showed that families occupied exclusive home ranges of 0.25 to 1.5 km^(2). The marked the home range boundaries with urine. These groups consisted of an adult mated pair and their young. Pairs sleep in the same burrow, forage and rest together, often lying in contact, social-groom and play with one another, and protect and assist each other (Estes, 1991). In South Africa, homeranges overlap extensively, with little or no territorial marking (Nowak, 1983). In these areas two or three breeding dens are sometimes clustered within a few hundred meters, probably due to locally suitable soil or vegetation. Population density may reach 10 individuals per km^(2). Benefits of group living for bat-eared foxes include increased termite harvesting, enhanced predator-detection, and the opportunity for offspring to learn by imitation what to eat and how to get it (Estes, 1991).

Play behavior among young pups shows similarities to escape behavior because, as adults, bat-eared foxes tend to show escape behavior rather than fighting behavior (Delany and Happold, 1979).

Communication and Perception

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

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).

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.

Conservation Status

Other Comments

Otocyon megalotis is the only species in the genus Otocyon.

Contributors

Paul Thomson (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ondrej Podlaha (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Ethiopian

living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

insectivore

An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

Clark, H. 2005. Otocyon megalotis. Mammalian Species, 766: 1-5.

Delany, M., D. Happold. 1979. Ecology of African Mammals. London and New York: Longman.

Estes, R. 1991. The Behavior Guide to African Mammals. South Africa: Russel Friedman Books.

Gittleman, J. 1996. Carnivore Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution. Ithaca: Comstock Publishing Associates.

International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), 1998. "Bat-eared Fox (*Otocyon megalotis*)" (On-line). Accessed November 19, 2001 at http://www.canids.org/SPPACCTS/otocyon.htm.

Maas, B. 1994. "Bat-eared Foxes in the Serengeti" (On-line). Accessed November 19, 2001 at http://www.canids.org/PUBLICAT/CNDNEWS2/otocyon.htm.

Macdonald, D. 1984. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File Publications.

Nowak, R., J. Paradiso. 1983. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.