A fox is an animal that belongs to the canine family. In nature, there are a large number of species of foxes. But it is the big-eared fox that is considered a unique and very rare species. This species is called so because its representatives have very long, elongated ears, which reach a length of up to 15 centimeters.
The name of this species, translated from Greek into Russian, means “large big-eared dog.” In many African countries, the animal is regarded as a predator and a threat to small livestock, in some places it is even kept as a pet.
Origin of the species and description
The big-eared fox is a chordate mammal, is a representative of the order of carnivores, the canine family, isolated in the genus and species of the big-eared fox.
Big-eared foxes, like other members of the canine family, evolved from miacids in the late Paleocene, approximately fifty million years ago. Subsequently, the canine family was divided into two suborders: canids and felines. The ancient ancestor of the big-eared, like other foxes, was prohesperocion. Its remains were found in the southwestern territory of present-day Texas.
Video: Big-eared fox
Research of the ancient ancestor of the fox showed that they had a larger body and much longer limbs. In the process of evolution, the predator has changed. It was divided into several subspecies, one of which was the big-eared fox. Due to the peculiarities of the climate in their habitat and the limitation of the food source, this species of animal switched to feeding on insects.
Big-eared foxes need a huge number of termites to feed themselves, and huge ears help them in their search, capable of capturing the slightest movements of insects even underground. The first description of the species was made by the French explorer – zoologist Anselme Demarais in 1822.
Appearance and features
By appearance, it has much in common with jackals and raccoon dogs. The fox has a rather fragile physique and short, thin limbs. The front paws are five-toed, the hind paws are four-toed. On the forelimbs are long, sharp claws, reaching two and a half centimeters in length. They perform the function of a digging tool.
The muzzle of the animal is small, pointed, elongated. On the muzzle are round, expressive black eyes. She is wearing a kind of mask made of wool of a dark, almost black color. The same color of the ears and limbs. The ears are large, triangular in shape, somewhat narrowed towards the edges. If the fox folds them, they will easily cover the entire head of the animal. In addition, it is in the ears that a large number of blood vessels are concentrated, which save the fox from overheating in conditions of intense heat and African heat.
The big-eared fox does not have strong, powerful jaws or large teeth. She has 48 teeth, including 4 molars and 4 molars. The teeth are small, but thanks to this structure of the jaw, the animal is able to chew food instantly and in large quantities.
The body length of one adult reaches half a meter. The height at the withers does not exceed forty centimeters. Body weight varies between 4-7 kilograms. Sexual dimorphism is insignificantly expressed. This species has a rather long, bushy tail. Its length is almost equal to the length of the body and is 30-40 centimeters. The tip of the tail is most often in the form of a fluffy black tassel.
The color of the animal is also not the same as that of most foxes. It has a yellowish-brownish color, may have a silvery-grayish tint. The limbs are dark brown or black, the neck and belly area is light yellow, white.
Where does the big-eared fox live?
Big-eared foxes live mainly in hot countries with an arid climate within the African continent. They settle in savannahs, steppe zones, on the territory of which there are thickets of tall shrubs, grasses, light forests. They are necessary so that animals can hide from the scorching sun and heat, as well as hide from chase and enemies.
The habitat of the big-eared fox:
- South Africa;
- Zambia ;
In the habitat of the big-eared fox, the height of vegetation should not exceed 25-30 centimeters. Otherwise, they will not be able to get enough food and insects from under the ground. If there is not enough food in the region where animals live, they look for another habitat where I can easily feed myself.
Uses a burrow as a dwelling. However, it is unusual for these representatives of the canine family to dig shelters themselves. They use burrows dug by other representatives of the animal world, but for some reason not inhabited. Most of the day, mostly during the daytime, they hide in cool burrows. Most often, the burrows of aardvarks are used, which dig a new dwelling for themselves almost every day.
Due to the spread of termites, big-eared foxes are divided into two types. One of them lives in the eastern part of the African continent from Sudan to central Tanzania, the second lives in its southern part from the Republic of South Africa to Angola.
What does the big-eared fox eat?
Despite the fact that big-eared foxes are predatory animals, their main food source is by no means meat. Surprisingly, they eat insects. Favorite food – termites.
Interesting fact. One adult eats about 1.2 million termites a year.
These representatives of the canine family have 48 teeth. Despite this, the strength of their jaws is significantly inferior to the strength of the jaws of other predators. This is because they are not hunters, and they do not need to eat meat, hold prey and divide it into parts. Instead, nature endowed them with the ability to chew food almost at lightning speed. Indeed, to saturate the animal requires a large number of insects.
The animal uses its ears to search for food. They are able to pick up the slightest sounds of insects moving even underground. Having caught a familiar sound, the animal digs the ground with lightning speed with strong, long claws and eats insects.
What is the source of food:
- Juicy, young shoots of plants;
- Insects, beetles;
- Small mammals.
An interesting fact. It has been scientifically proven that these representatives of the canine family have a sweet tooth. They are happy to eat honey from wild bees and sweet, juicy fruits. If such foodstuffs are available, they can eat only them for a long time.
In the entire history of existence, the inhabitants of the African continent have not recorded a single case of attacks on domestic animals. This fact confirms that they really are not hunters. Foxes do not come to the watering place, as the body's need for moisture is covered by eating fruits and other types of succulent food of plant origin.
They go out in search of food mainly at night due to the intense heat. In search of food, they are able to cover quite long distances – 13-14 kilometers per night.
Peculiarities of character and lifestyle
Data representatives of the canine family lead a nomadic, wandering lifestyle. They adapt to the territory depending on the amount of food. When it is depleted, they move to other places.
Foxes are naturally monogamous. Males choose a female with whom they live throughout their lives. Pairs live together within the same burrow, sleep side by side, help each other care for the coat, keep it clean. There are cases when males live simultaneously with two females, forming a kind of harem.
In rare cases, they can live as part of a group. Each family or group has its own area of residence, which is approximately 70-80 hectares. It is uncharacteristic for them to mark their territory and defend the right to occupy it.
Interesting fact. By nature, big-eared foxes are considered silent animals, but they tend to communicate with each other through the issuance of certain sounds. They can make sounds of nine different frequencies. Seven of them are lower and are intended to communicate with their relatives, two are high-toned and are used to communicate with rivals and competitors.
If the animals fail to find a free hole, they dig their own. At the same time, they resemble real labyrinths with several entrances and exits, several halls. If predators manage to find the hole, the fox family hastily leaves its shelter and digs a new one, no less complex and large.
If a fox becomes an object of pursuit from a predator, it abruptly takes flight, dives into thickets of grass or bushes, then changes its trajectory of movement with lightning speed, turning on one of its front limbs. Such a maneuver allows you to maintain speed and quietly dive into one of the many labyrinths of your shelter. It is also common for animals to confuse predators, returning in their own footsteps.
Daily activity depends on the climate. In extreme heat and heat, it is most active at night, in winter it is also active during daylight hours.
Social structure and reproduction
Big-eared foxes are monogamous by nature, and live with the same female all their lives. However, there are cases when males choose two females and live together with them. Moreover, they get along very peacefully with each other, help to take care of the offspring.
The female's estrus lasts a very short period of time – only one day. It is during this short period of time that individuals manage to mate up to a dozen times. Fox cubs are born only once a year. The gestation period lasts 60-70 days. Cubs are born at the moment when the rainy season is on the territory of the African continent, and a large number of insects necessary for feeding the female and cubs are noted.
Most often, from one to five babies are born. The male takes an active part in caring for them. He guards the hole, gets them food, helps to care for the wool. If there are two females, the second also helps to feed and care for them. They are born blind, naked and helpless. The female has only four nipples, and therefore she cannot physically feed more foxes. Often there are situations when she herself kills the weakest and most unviable babies.
Vision appears in fox cubs on the ninth – tenth day. After two weeks, they leave the lair and explore the surrounding area. By this time, the body of the animals is covered with gray fluff. The cubs feed on their mother's milk for up to 15 weeks. After that, they completely switch to the usual diet of adults. Gradually, they learn to get their own food. The period of puberty begins from 7-8 months of age. In some cases, juvenile females remain in the group.
Natural enemies of big-eared foxes
In natural conditions, the enemies of this representative of the canine family are:
- African wild dogs;
Man poses the greatest danger to the population, as he actively exterminates animals in order to obtain meat, as well as valuable fur of a rare animal. Big-eared foxes are exterminated in large numbers. The most susceptible to destruction are young individuals that are temporarily left unattended by adults. They are hunted not only by larger predators, but also by birds.
Significantly reduces the number of animal diseases such as rabies. Big-eared foxes, like other members of the canine family, are susceptible to this disease. Every year, about a quarter of all individuals that exist in this territory die from it.
Poachers destroy animals in large numbers, besides them, natives and other nationalities of the African continent hunt foxes. Fur is highly sought after and prized, and meat is considered a real delicacy in local eateries.
Population and Species Status
Today, the number of animals is significantly reduced. Researchers – zoologists argue that they are not threatened with complete extinction. In this connection, they are not listed in the Red Book and hunting for them is not prohibited at the legislative level.
In former times, the animal population was numerous in the eastern and southern parts of the African continent. However, today they are significantly exterminated in many regions. In some of them there is a threat of their complete disappearance.
However, zoologists argue that with the expansion of agricultural land, the area of grass pastures has increased, which expanded the area of distribution of the food source of foxes – termites. In this regard, in such regions, the number of big-eared foxes has increased to 25-27 individuals per square kilometer. This number is typical for some regions of the South African continent.
In other regions, the number of these representatives of the canine family is much lower – from 1 to 7 individuals per square kilometer. The researchers argue that the greatest danger is the destruction of a very important link in the ecosystem, which, if completely destroyed, cannot be restored. Also, with a decrease in the number of foxes, the number of termites sharply increases, which pose a danger to the local population.
The big-eared fox is a very beautiful and interesting animal. However, as a result of human activities, its number in the natural environment is significantly reduced. If you do not take timely measures to preserve and restore the population, you can have irreversible consequences.