Fennec foxes are the world’s smallest foxes. They measure 36-41 cm (14-16 in.) long and weigh 1-1.6 kg (2-3.5 lb.). But though they are small, fennec foxes have exceptionally large, batlike ears. This makes them very recognizable and very cute!
Also called desert foxes, fennec foxes inhabit the deserts and arid regions of northern Africa and the Sinai Peninsula. They have several adaptations to help them survive in this hot, dry habitat.
Their large ears help them listen for prey underneath the sand. Their ears also release heat, keeping them cool.
When it is very hot, fennec foxes pant rapidly. Their breathing rate can go from 23 breaths per minute to 690. This helps them cool down. They can also go long periods without water.
Their pale, sandy coloring reflects sunlight and helps the foxes blend in with their surroundings. Fennec foxes also have lots of fur on their feet which protects them from the hot ground. At night, when it’s cool, their thick coat keeps them warm.
Although they are small and have short legs, fennec foxes are skilled at jumping and running. They can jump up to 1 m (3 ft.) high and as far as 1.2 m (4 ft.)! And they can run as fast as 32 km/h (20 mph).
Fennec foxes live in underground dens up to 1 m (3 ft.) deep. Where the soil is loose, the den may consist of just one tunnel and a chamber. But where the soil is compact, the dens can be more complex with many interconnected tunnels and chambers. It could have up to 15 entrances. Male fennec foxes mark their territories with urine.
Though they hunt alone, fennec foxes live in family groups of up to 10 members. Usually the families include a set of parents, their offspring from the year before and their new offspring. They communicate with each other using a range of sounds, including barks, whimpers, shrieks, squeaks, growls, howls and chatters.
What Fennec Foxes Eat
Fennec foxes mostly hunt at night to avoid the heat of the day. They use their large ears to detect prey in the sand. Then they dig with all four feet. They eat insects, small rodents, lizards, birds and eggs. They will also eat roots, fruits and leaves.
Fennec Fox Reproduction
Fennec foxes are monogamous. They mate for life. Female fennec foxes have a gestation period of about 50 days. In March-April, they give birth to 2-5 kits. The kits have fur, but they’re blind. Within the second week, the kits open their eyes, and by the end of two weeks, they can walk.
While the female nurses the kits, the male will hunt and bring food back for her. The kits are weaned at around 60-70 days.
Fennec fox foxes live about 10 years in the wild. Predators include Verreaux’s eagle-owls, jackals, caracals, and hyenas.
The IUCN Redlist classifies fennec foxes as a species of least concern and their population is stable. But they are threatened by habitat loss from human settlement. People also hunt fennec foxes for their fur and capture them for the illegal pet trade.
What You Can Do to Help
You can help fennec foxes by not keeping them as pets and not supporting the fur or pet trade.