Fennec Foxes

(Fennecus zerda)

Fennec Fox

The World’s Smallest Fox

 

Natural History

Classification:

 

            Currently there is much debate over the true classification of the fennec fox. Fennec foxes are different from other foxes in both their behaviour and genetics. Unlike other foxes the fennec fox lives in groups called harems while other species of foxes are solitary. Genetically, the fennec fox only has 32 chromosome pairs, while the other species of foxes have between 35 and 39 pairs. This has resulted in two conflicting classifications: Vulpes zerda which would say that the fennec is a true fox, or Fennecus zerda, which says it is in its own genus. I do not think that behaviour is a good enough reason for classification because it is not uncommon to find some members of a genus to be more social than others. A good example of this is the lion, where both the African and Asian lions live in prides, which is unusual for big cats. But regardless it is in the family Felidae, which also includes the other big cats that are not social by nature. On the other hand, I feel genetics is a logical reason for placing a species in its own genus.

 

Range and Adaptation:

 

The fennec fox is a native of North Africa and part of the Middle East. Their location ranges from northern Morocco, east to the northern tip of the Red Sea to Kuwait, and south into northern Nigeria and Chad. They can be found in both mountainous and desert habitats, although they are mainly a desert species. The largest population of wild fennec foxes can be found in the central Sahara; the world’s largest hot desert.

 

Knowledge Note:

The world’s largest desert is Antarctica, although it is a cold desert. The definition for a desert is more evaporation than precipitation, which comes in the form of rain or snow. Deserts also have a barren environment which Antarctica is 98% ice sheets and 2% barren rock. The Sahara is the world’s second largest desert and the world’s largest hot desert. The Sahara is larger than the continental USA at 9,000,000 square kilometres and covers most of North Africa. It is a harsh, unforgiving environment with very hot days and cold nights. Half of the Sahara receives less than 2 cm of rain a year and the other half gets no more than 10 cm.

           

The fennec fox is well adapted to life in the desert and similar harsh environments. They are so highly specialized for this way of life that they are almost only found in arid, sandy regions. Fennec foxes, like most desert species, are nocturnal, spending the hot days underground where temperatures are much more tolerable. Other adaptations to life in the desert include their huge ears, which look like they may belong to a larger species of animal. In actuality the huge ears, which can be six inches in length, allow them to radiate heat, acting as a cooling device. The ears have a large surface area with a webbed vein system running through them. Warm blood is pumped through these vein webs in the ears from the body core. Once in the ears the blood is cooled by the heat being radiated out of the body and then the cooled blood is pumped back into the body, cooling it down. Another adaptation that the Fennec fox has developed for life in

 

Knowledge Note:           

Having big ears to help cool off is not only seen in fennec foxes but a number of other species. Well known big-eared species include the elephant and jack rabbit. Both species live in hot climates and need to be able to cool down or they would overheat.

 

the desert is its fur coat. The fennec fox has a fur coat that is sandy in color and serves four purposes. First, it provides the fox with excellent camouflage, allowing it to blend in nicely with the desert environment. Secondly, the color of its fur coat reflects the sun light, helping it stay cool. Third, it is designed to insulate the fox from both the heat of the day and the cold of the night. Finally, fennec foxes have hairy feet which protect them from the hot sand and provide them with traction on loose sand.

 

Lastly, and probably the most important adaptation of the fennec fox, is its ability to go without needing to drink water. It is the only species of carnivore found in the Sahara that can go without drinking water. This has allowed the fennec fox to live in places that other carnivores cannot. There are a few things that have allowed the fennec to be like this. First, the fennec fox has specially adapted kidneys which are designed to limit water loss. They make the urine of the fox much more concentrated, thus preventing excess water loss. Secondly, they have developed the ability of absorbing moisture from the things they eat. Fennec foxes have learned the best plants and animals to eat in order to get the most moisture they need to survive. It is amazing the adaptations animals have in order to live in harsh environments.

 

Description:

           

            The fennec fox is the world’s smallest member of the canids’ family (dog family). They range in size from 0.8 kg for a female and 1.5 kg for a male. They measure between 30 to 40 cm for the body and the tail, which makes up about 60% of the total length, is from 18 to 30 cm long.  Fennec foxes have a shoulder height of between 18 to 22 cm. Finally, they have big ears, as mentioned, that measure between 4 and 6 inches. As previously stated, these big ears help them stay cool, but what was not said is that they also help them locate their prey.

 

Habits:

 

            The fennec fox comes out at night to hunt. Their main diet consists of rodents, insects, lizards, birds, eggs of insects and birds, and desert vegetation. The desert vegetation consists of roots, grasses, and some fruits and berries. Vegetation is very important to the fennec foxes’ diet because it supplies them with most of their moisture. Fennec foxes are believed to be able to go years without drinking, although they will readily drink when moisture is available. It is also believed that the burrows dug by the foxes may collect moisture in the form of dew, which could also be responsible for some of the moisture the foxes receive. Fennec foxes live in groups in large dens which can extend over 10 meters underground. They are the only species of fox known to live in packs, which are called harems. The harem is made up of one alpha male, known as a tod, and many females, known as vixens. Sometimes sub or omega males can be found in harems that help protect the group, although most males are evicted as soon as they mature. The fennec fox harem works a lot like a lion pride, where the female and their daughters stay in the group and males come and go as they take control. Males fight violently for control of the harem and its females and, although the fights are rarely deadly, death does sometimes occur.  The evicted males are called rogues and are left to wander the desert in search of other harems to try and take control of. Or, sometimes the rogues will take the position of an omega male if there is room for one. Some groups of males, especially siblings, can be found wandering together as they wait to take over a harem of their own. Omegas are generally not allowed to mate, although they occasionally do with a single female, whereas alpha males may mate with all the females of the harem. Fennec foxes are not monogamous, as stated by some.

 

Breeding:

 

            Breeding season generally occurs from January to March, which is winter in the Sahara. This makes it so that the kits are born in spring when food supplies are at their best. At about 52 days after breeding, the female will produce from 2 to 5 kits, which weigh about 50 grams. Normally, in the wild, only one litter is produced a year but rarely, if a litter is lost and food resources are good, a second litter maybe produced. When the kits are born the female will keep the male out of the den. The male will guard the entrance and also bring food to the female. Fennec kits are born helpless with closed eyes and little hair. It takes two weeks for their eyes to open and four weeks before they start to play and explore their den. At about five weeks, the kits start to explore outside of their den. They feed exclusively on their mother’s milk for about the first month, after which they start to eat other foods. Fennec fox kits take between 8 and 11 months to mature, at which time the males are evicted from the harem.

 

Conservation:

 

            Currently, the fennec fox is considered rare and is listed as a CITES Appendix II species. Not much is known about the predators of the fennec fox, although it is safe to say that there are some. Potential natural predators may be animals such as eagles, owls, striped hyenas, and jackals. The main threat to the fennec fox is humans, who hunt them for sport and their fur. We are also shrinking the natural habitat of the fennec fox for our own selfish wants. This is a big deal because deserts, due to there harsh environments, are very sensitive and take a long time to recover from any disruption.

Fennec foxes are fast, smart animals that have dens designed for quick escape. They have more than one escape route to ensure that escape is possible even if an exit is covered. The same adaptations which allow them to survive in the desert also help them to escape predators. Their sand color allows them to blend into their surroundings. Their big ears allow them to detect the slightest sounds which may be that of a predator. They are so fast that there is a saying in Arabia which says; “Two dogs make a fennec play, three make him laugh, four make him run about, five make him flee and six dogs finally catch him”.  From this we can gather that the fennec fox is considered fast and smart, somewhat like our red fox.

 

In Captivity

 

 

OUR FOXES

(GIZMO, VIXEN, and SHYLO)

Here at Northern Exotics we currently have six fennec foxes two males and four females. We have them set up into a pair (Sonic and Jinx) and the rest (Gizmo, Sahara, Shylo, and Vixen) together. They all pretty much look the same but as you get to know them they can be told apart from one another.

                                               GIZMO

  • SEX: Male
  • DOB: April 19th, 2006
  • TEMPERMENT: EXCELLENT
  • MATES: Shylo, Vixen, and Sahara

OTHER: He was our first fennec fox which we got when he was 8weeks old. He is an excellent fennec and loves to get attention from people. Because of his great attitude we use him in our education shows which brings him face to face with many children and adults. He is always a great hit with everybody he comes across. When we first got him we took him to BC at which time he was able to travel on the plane with us. Well going through security he basically stopped the flow because everybody wanted to meet him.

INTERESTING FACT: His best friend is Zack our neutered male cat who even grooms him. They love to spend hours together sunning themselves on the couch. It is amazing the relationship they have and it is also a lot of fun to watch the two of them.

 

 

                                             SHYLO

  • SEX: Female
  • DOB: March 14, 2007
  • TEMPERMENT: Shy but friendly
  • MATE: Gizmo

OTHER: She is the sister to Vixen and I got them both from BC at about 8 weeks of age. She isn't a cuddler like her mate Gizmo but she can be handled and is a joy to be around. I think since I got her and her sister at the same time and they have always been together they bond with each other rather then with us.

BREEDING: 2009 will be her first year in which she will be bred. Although fennec foxes become sexually mature at the age of 8 months it is better to wait until they are at least 1 year of age or older. Waiting longer allows female to build better bone density and to be healthier which results in healthier kits. Therefore we didn't introduce Gizmo until after March 14 and although they where not expected to breed but there was a period I thought they did but they didn't. Anyhow Gizmo has been with her since last year so kits are expected.

 

 

                                    VIXEN

  • SEX: Female
  • DOB: March 14, 2007
  • TEMPERMENT: Friendly
  • MATE: Gizmo

OTHER: The sister to Shylo she shares the same temperment. She is very easy to get along with although she doesn't care for cuddling. One thing she does love is crickets and meal worms which she goes nuts for. Actually all the foxes love them and it sure is fun watching them chase the cricket around or to watch them try and locate the meal worms burried in the shavings.

BREEDING: Like with her sister we wanted to give her a chance to properly mature before she was bred. Therefore she still hasn't produce as she wasn't introduce to Gizmo until after the normal breeding season in 2008. But Gizmo has been with them since then and they have just gone through the 2009 breeding season. So hopefully we will have some cute little kits running around this spring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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