Meet the fennec fox

Photo by Kitty Terwolbeck. Retrieved from Flickr on 07-13-2023. Shared under CC BY 2.0.

It’s the middle of summer here in Boston, and it is getting hot! Unfortunately, I am not adapted to living in this hot weather.

But you know who is? The cutest desert animal, the fennec fox.

Fennec foxes (Vulpes zerda) get their name from the Arabic word for fox, fanak. They are found in the deserts of northern Africa and the Sinai and Arabian peninsulas. Fennec foxes are the smallest canines, with a head and body length of 14 – 16 inches (36 – 41 cm) and a weight of just 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg). They’re just little guys!

Those ears!

Photo by Caninest. Retrieved from Wikipedia on 07-13-2023. Shared under CC BY 2.0.

In case you couldn’t tell, fennec foxes have big ears! These ears can grow to be nearly half the length of their body – 6 inches or 15 cm long. Fennec foxes have the largest ears relative to their body size of any other member in the canid family (foxes, wolves, dogs).

Besides making them look adorable, a fennec fox’s large ears serve as important adaptations for living in the harsh desert environment. Their large surface area helps dissipate heat from the fennec fox’s body. These ears are also great for pinpointing prey hiding underneath the sand.

Desert life

Of course, ears alone don’t make life easy in the desert, and fennec foxes have many other adaptations that let them thrive in their desert home. For example, fennec foxes are great at panting. When it’s really hot, they can pant at 690 breaths per minute! That’s pretty impressive, especially considering they usually only breathe 23 times a minute.

Fennec foxes have very furry feet. This thick fur serves multiple purposes:

  1. It protects their feet from burning on hot sand.
  2. It lets their feet act like snowshoes. This helps fennec foxes move quickly over the sand without sinking.
  3. Having thick fur on their feet provides traction for fennec foxes as they run across the desert.

Their light fur also provides multiple benefits. Since they’re sand-colored, fennec foxes are well camouflaged from potential predators. The light coloration also helps reflect sunlight, keeping them cool when they go out in the sun. Their fur is also very thick, which helps keep them warm in the cold desert nights.

Fennec foxes also have multiple adaptations to deal with a lack of water, making them one of the few carnivores that can survive in the Sahara desert. Their kidneys are so efficient that fennec foxes don’t need water. Instead, they get the moisture they need from their food. If they really want a drink, fennec foxes may also lap up condensation that forms inside their dens.

Speaking of dens – this is another way fennec foxes beat the heat. By digging burrows that reach up to three feet under the sand, they create a nice, shady place to hide from the sun. Fennec foxes will spend most of the day sleeping in their cool den, coming out only at night to go hunting.

Cool in the shade. Photo by Daniel Ramirez. Retrieved from Wikipedia on 07-13-2023. Shared under CC BY 2.0.

Family life

Fennec foxes have an unusual social life for a fox. Unlike most foxes, fennec foxes often live in communal dens. These dens will have a breeding pair, the latest litter of kits, and some older siblings. These dens are fiercely guarded against other fennec foxes.

Fennec foxes only give birth once a year, and the kits take a relatively long time to grow up. They’ll continue drinking milk for nearly three months and don’t reach sexual maturity until they’re around nine months old. During this time, their parents are continuously watching over their kits. Since fennec foxes have only one litter a year, the parents put a lot of care into their kits to ensure they successfully grow to adulthood.

Just 10 months old, but already with huge ears! Photo by Tom Thai. Retrieved from Wikipedia on 07-13-2023. Shared under CC BY 2.0.

As they grow up, young fennec foxes spend much time playing with their siblings and parents. These little animals are super agile – an adult can jump up to 3 feet (1 meter) straight into the air!

On last fact to leave you with: a group of foxes is called a skulk!



Animal Diversity Web

National Geographic

Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute

San Diego Zoo


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