The fennec fox is a small fox known for its enormous ears. It inhabits the desert regions of North Africa and is well-adapted to life in those harsh conditions, earning it the nickname “desert fox”. They are social animals, living inside underground caves in small groups.
Due to their adorable appearance, these tiny foxes have often been coveted by collectors and exotic pet owners.
Length: 14 to 16 inches (35.6 to 40.6 centimeters)
Weight: 2 and 3 pounds (0.9 to 1.4 kilograms)
Ears: They have disproportionately large ears compared to the rest of their body, ranging from 3.5-3.9 in (9-10 cm). Their ear-to-body ratio is the largest amongst all canids. The ears have reddish stripes on the back and whitish stripes on the edges. The insides of their ears are filled with tufted hair. Their teeth are small and sharp, with the canines being smaller than in most other canids.
Body and Coloration: These foxes are the smallest of the canid family. They have large black eyes, a black nose, a narrow muzzle, and a tail that tapers off and ends with a black tip. The paws are heavily padded with fur.
They are straw-colored, with dark streaks running from their inner eye to both sides of their mouth.
They live in North Africa, occupying the Sahara Desert, from Morocco and Mauritania to northern Sudan, through Egypt, as well as east to Sinai and Arabia.
These foxes dwell in arid places and sandy deserts with sparse vegetation like grassy lands, shrublands, and sedges.
Omnivorous in nature, the fennec fox feeds on birds and their eggs, insects (particularly grasshoppers and locusts), lizards, and small rodents. Plant material consumed by them includes berries, leaves, roots, and tubers.
All their water needs are obtained from their food and licking the dew that forms in their dens.
This fox lives for 10 years in the wild and 14 years in captivity.
They are primarily nocturnal animals, spending most of the day underground to avoid the harsh heat of the desert. Foraging begins at dusk when the sun is close to setting.
Despite their cuddly appearance, these foxes are pretty aggressive when needed and will attack and bite intruders.
Similar to other canids, males mark their territory with urine and defend it fiercely.
Fennec foxes live in small groups consisting of ten individuals in underground burrows. Members include a breeding pair and their offspring.
They utilize a wide variety of vocalizations, including chattering, growling, howling, shrieking, wailing, and whimpering.
Fennec foxes are preyed upon by caracals, hyenas, jackals, and Pharaoh and Verreaux’s eagle-owls.
The big ears of the fennec fox radiate body heat, keeping them cool during the day.
Also, their hearing is excellent courtesy their ears, capable of hearing prey move about underground.
Dense padding on their paws help them walk on the hot sand of the desert.
Their fur acts as the perfect camouflage, making the fox indistinguishable from its sandy surroundings.
Their kidneys conserve water very well, allowing them to go for long periods without water.
Mating and Reproduction
These foxes are monogamous, mating for life. They breed between January and March, with the female giving birth in March to June. The male becomes very aggressive after mating, protecting the female during pregnancy and bringing her food.
After a gestation period lasting over 50 days, the female gives birth to a litter of 1-4 baby fennec foxes, called pups. Both parents care for the pups, who are weaned after 2 months. Older pups will stay with their parents even after a new litter is born. They reach sexual maturity at 10 months.
As per the IUCN, the fennec fox is “Least Concern” or “LC”. However, it is often captured and sold as pets which may lead to further population decline.
It is Algeria’s national animal and is also the basis for the nickname of their national football team, Les Fennecs.
The fennec fox’s name comes from its Arabic name fanak.