Wild - 10 years
Captive - 12-14 years
My What Big Ears You Have!
The large ears of the fennec fox help to keep them cool in their desert habitat by facilitating the easy exchange of heat back in to the environment. Their kidneys are also adapted to retain water which helps to prevent them from becoming dehydrated.
Despite their large ears this is the world's smallest species of fox and can be found in arid areas of Africa.
What does a Fennec Fox look like?
The fennec fox has a fluffy, cream or sandy coloured coat on the back and white on the underside. They have thick fur around their feet to protect them from the hot sand. A coat of thick fur across the body helps to insulate them against the extreme cold temperatures which can occur at night. They have the largest ears relative to body size of any fox.
Their bushy tail has a black tip on the end. It makes up 18-31cm (7-12in) of their length.
The fennec fox is the world’s smallest fox and canid species. They measure between 24 and 41 cm (9-16 in). They stand 20.3cm (8in) tall. Their large ears are 10-15cm (3.9-5.9in) tall. They weigh an average of 1-1.5kg (2.25-3.25lbs).
How does the Fennec Fox survive in its habitat?
Their large ears assist them with regulating their body temperature by providing a large surface area with many blood vessels where heat can be exchanged in to the air. In to addition to assisting with heat exchange the large ears will also allow them to hear prey which can help with finding their next meal.
If caught in extreme weather they will begin to pant heavily. During this time their breathing rate can increase from 23 breaths per minute to as high as 690.
To help prevent water loss they will dig burrows and they remain within this during periods of warm weather.
What does a Fennec Fox eat?
Fennec Foxes are described as opportunistic omnivores with high seasonal variability in their diet based on prey availability. For example during locusts outbreaks these become a significant portion of their diet. Studies have shown that the majority of their diet is insects. This is then supplemented with small rodents, birds along with their eggs and plants.
The species has been observed with cultivated plants and plastic within their stool showing that scavenging takes place near human habitation.
Hunting primarily occurs on their own. Prey can be located under the sand using their large ears and they will then burrow under the ground with all four paws. They have been observed to take down prey which is larger than their body size such as rabbits.
They have specially adapted kidneys allowing them to not drink much. They can obtain some of their water from the food they eat. Dew also forms in their den which they can drink.
Where do you the find the Fennec Fox?
The fennec fox comes from northern Africa. They are found in arid areas of the following countries Algeria; Chad; Egypt; Libya; Mali; Mauritania; Morocco; Niger; Sudan; Tunisia and Western Sahara.
Previous reports of the species range suggested their occurrence in the Middle East. Further research indicates that these likely came from the misidentification of Blanford’s Fox or Rüppell's Fox.
Where can a Fennec Fox survive?
The fennec fox is found throughout desert areas. Along the Atlantic coast they have been seen to live among sand dunes. They have an ability to dig in sandier soils than other foxes allowing them to exploit a wider range of habitats.
How does a Fennec Fox produce its young?
The breeding season for this species is between January and February. While they usually breed once a year there are recorded cases of two litters per year. The male and female will mate for life. Following the mating the male becomes protective of the female up until she finishes lactating. The gestation period is 50-52 days.
Between one and five kits are born at the end of the gestation. They emerge from the mother with their ears folded over and closed eyes. The eyes open and the ears lift after their 10th day.
The kits are weaned from the mother after 61-70 days. The kits then begin to go hunting with the mother. They will remain within the territory of their parents until they are ready to breed when they go off to form their own prey.
While the mother is raising the kits the male will bring them food.
Sexual maturity is reached between 9 and 12 months old.
What does the Fennec Fox do during its day?
The fennec fox is a nocturnal species. They are more active at night so they can avoid the harsh heat from the desert sun during the day. Throughout the day they rest in their burrow. Their feet are well adapted for digging a burrow. The den may have up to 15 entrances and be 120 square metres.
The fennec fox inhabits a territory which it may share with a group of up to 10 other foxes. They mark their territory using urine.
These animals are known to make barks, purrs and snarls. It is common to hear the vocalisations of this species.
From a standing start they can jump to 1m (3ft) in to the air.
Predators and Threats
What stops the Fennec Fox from surviving and thriving?
Populations of the fennec fox are considered stable with the only reduction in their range occurring close to human habitats.
Individuals are hunted for their fur or to be sold in to the pet trade. They are a common pet both from poached individuals and through captive breeding such as occurs in the United States. Increasing human development within their habitat has put them at increased risk of vehicle strikes.
Small numbers of fennec foxes have been confirmed to suffer from canine distemper.
Fennec Foxes are the national animal of Algeria. Their national football team ‘Les Fennecs’ is named after these foxes.
Their species name, zerda is taken from an Arabic word meaning 'small fox.'
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Karima Brahmi, El Amin Khechekhouche, Otman Mostefaoui, Salaheddine Doumandji, Belkacem Baziz, Stéphane Aulagnier "First quantitative data on the diet of the fennec fox, Vulpes zerda (Canidae, Carnivora), in Algeria," Folia Zoologica, 61(1), 61-70, (1 April 2012)
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Fennec Fox (2019) Smithsonian's National Zoo. Available at: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/fennec-fox (Accessed: January 25, 2023).
Fennec Fox (no date) SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. Available at: https://seaworld.org/animals/facts/mammals/fennec-fox/ (Accessed: January 25, 2023).
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