Bat-eared fox (Otocyon megalotis)

French: L 'Otocyon, L'otocyon
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCarnivora
FamilyCanidae
GenusOtocyon (1)
SizeHead-body length: 46 - 66 cm (2)
Weight3.0 - 5.3 kg (2)

The bat-eared fox is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Subspecies Otocyon megalotis virgatus, O. m. megalotis.

The bat-eared fox (Otocyon megalotis) is so called due to its distinctive, bat-wing-shaped ears, which can grow up to 14 centimetres in length (3).  In fact, the species name ‘megalotis’ comes from the Greek words ‘mega’ and ‘otus’ meaning ‘large eared’. The ears are important in many aspects of the bat-eared fox’s life, from communication to finding food (4).

Fur colour can range from pale yellow to a deep honey colour, depending on where the individual is found and how old it is (3). The muzzle of the bat-eared fox is greyish-black on top with paler sides. Its muzzle is larger than that of other fox species (5). The bat-eared fox has highly pointed teeth, which enables it to rapidly chew its preferred insect food items efficiently, to aid digestion (6).

The bat-eared fox is endemic to Africa. There are two subspecies: Otocyon megalotis virgatus is found in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya and extends its range into parts of other countries such as Tanzania and Uganda, while Otocyon megalotis megalotis resides throughout South Africa, Namibia and Botswana (4). 

Although this species can occasionally be seen in open woodland, the bat-eared fox prefers savannah habitats with short grass, where large herbivores such as wildebeest and antelopes have been grazing and trampling the area. Often, the bat-eared fox is found in recently-burned regions of the arid savannah, as this will also leave fine, short-grass environments (7).

The bat-eared fox does, however, need some form of scrub or tall grass in which to rest during the hotter periods of the day, and it will also hide among longer grasses to evade predators (2).

The majority of the bat-eared fox’s diet consists of small invertebrates, such as ants and termites (8). This species forages primarily at night or during dull, overcast periods of the day, in keeping with its nocturnal lifestyle. The bat-eared fox uses its large ears during foraging, positioning them to point towards the ground to pick up sounds made by invertebrates. This species can also be observed to dig into the ground using its front paws to reach underground prey (7).

The remarkable ears are also very important in communication between individuals.

The bat-eared fox is usually a monogamous species which shows little territoriality, and members of this species typically have overlapping ranges (10). The female gives birth to one to five cubs, after a gestation period of two months. The male bat-eared fox will stay close to the female for the whole breeding season (11). After birth, the male will usually stay at the den to protect the cubs, while the female scouts for food to maintain her milk production (7) (12).

Whether or not the bat-eared fox forages in groups depends on the availability of prey. If there are large swarms of insects, groups of 2 to 15 foxes can be found foraging together (10) (9). Where lessprey available, this species will tend to forage alone or in pairs (7).

The adult bat-eared fox is subject to predation by large carnivores such as lions, leopards, cheetahs, brown and spotted hyenas and African wild dogs. Pups are also vulnerable to predation by smaller carnivores, such as the black-backed jackal, while bird predators, such as the martial eagle, may occasionally be a threat (13) (14).

The bat-eared fox is hunted for its pelt, particularly in Botswana where it offers significant commercial value to local people (15). Other threats to the bat-eared fox include diseases, such as rabies, canine parvovirus and canine distemper virus (16). Rabies is a major cause of death for this species, causing up to 90 percent mortality in major new outbreaks (14).

General threats to other medium-sized African carnivores can also apply to the bat-eared fox. The fragmentation of habitat is an ever-escalating danger, with areas of farmland in Namibia holding a much more diminished community of bat-eared foxes than protected, national park areas (17).

There are no specific conservation measures currently in place for the bat-eared fox. Due to its ability to thrive in an increasingly agricultural landscape, this species is not currently threatened. There are also large areas such as the Kruger National Park in South Africa and Etosha National park in Namibia which are home to large populations of the bat-eared fox (18).

More information on the bat-eared fox and its conservation: 

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker’s mammals of the world. Sixth edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
  3. Maas, B. (1993) Bat-eared fox behavioural ecology and the incidence of rabies in the Serengeti National Park. Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Research, 60:389-393.
  4. Clark, H.O. Jr. (2005) Mammalian species, Otocyon megalotis. American Society of Mammalogists, 766: 1-5.
  5. Mills, G., and Hes, L. (1997) The Complete Book of Southern African Mammals. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, Republic of South Africa.
  6. Gaspard, M. (1964) La region de l’angle mandibulaire chez les Canidae. Mammalia, 28: 249-329.
  7. Malcolm, J.R. (1986) Socio-ecology of bat-eared foxes (Otocyon megalotis). Journal of Zooogy), 208(3):457-469.
  8. Smithers, H.N. (1983) The mammals of the southern African sub-region. University of Pretoria Press, Pretoria, Republic of South Africa.
  9. Nel, J.A.J. and Bester, M.H. (1983) Communication in the southern bat-eared fox Otocyon megalotis megalotis (Desmarest) in the Kruger National Park. Koedoe, 13:23-27.
  10. Koop, K. and Velimirov, B. (1982) Field observations on activity and feeding of bat-eared foxes (Otocyon megalotis) at Nxai Pan, Botswana. African Journal of Ecology, 20:23-27.
  11. Wright, H.W.Y., Gray, M.M., Wayne, R.K. and Woodroffe, R.B. (2010) Mating tactics and paternity in a socially monogamous canid, the bat-eared fox (Otocyon megalotis). Journal of Mammalogy, 91: 437-446.
  12. Nel, J.A.J. (1978) Notes on the food and foraging behaviour of the bat-eared fox, Otocyon megalotis. Bulletin of CarnegieMuseumof Natural History, 6:132-137.
  13. Pauw, A. (2000) Parental care in a polygynous group of bat-eared foxes, Otocyon megalotis (Carnivora: Canidae). African Zoology, 35: 139-145.
  14. Macdonald, D.W. and Sillero-Zubiri, C. (2004) Biology and conservation of wild canids. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  15. Ginsberg, J.R. and Macdonald, D.W. (1990) Foxes, Wolves, Jackals and Dogs. An action plan for the conservation of canids. IUCN/SSC canid specialist group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
  16. Kalmer, J.F. and Macdonald, D.W. (2006) Longevity of a wild bat-eared fox. South African Journal of Wildlife Research,36: 199-200.
  17. Kauffman, M.J., Sanjayan, M., Lowenstein, J., Nelson, A., Jeo, R.M. and Crooks, R. (2007) Remote camera-trap methods and analyses reveal impacts of rangeland management on Namibian carnivore communities. Oryx, 41: 70-78.
  18. Pienaar, U.D.V. (1970) A note on the occurrence of bat-eared fox Otocyon-megalotis megalotis in the Kruger National Park. Koedoe, 13: 23-27.