Bat-Eared Fox in Africa
Scientific name: Otocyon megalotis
The ears of bat-eared foxes can grow up to 5.3 inches long. For an animal that stands 11.8-15.7 inches at the shoulder and weighs 2.2-4.5kgs that’s enormous. Bat-eared foxes use these specialized ears to locate termites, dung beetles, and other insects, which make up most of their diet. Bat-eared foxes can hear larvae chewing their way out of an underground dung beetle ball. They can also detect the sound of harvesting termites chewing on short grasses.
Where to find bat-eared foxes in Uganda
Bat-eared foxes prefer open country and are common on farmlands.
There are two distinct populations of bat-eared foxes. These can be found in East and southern Africa.
In Uganda the bat eared fox is quiet common in Kidepo
and the Pian Upe, but absent elsewhere.
How to identify a bat-eared fox
The body of the bat-eared fox is ashy gray in colour with black limbs and tail. The backs of its enormous ears are also black, and it has a raccoon-like white facemask. The underside of its neck and belly are paler than the rest of its body.
Bat-eared foxes are hunted by several different mammal species, including cheetahs, jackals, spotted hyenas, rock pythons, African wild dogs, and leopards. Their large, bushy tails work as a rudder when fleeing from predators in a zigzag pattern. They are fast and good at dodging, but their best chance at escaping predation is by fleeing to their underground dens, which have several entrances and multiple chambers connected by tunnels. A bat-eared fox family may have several dens throughout their home range.
Bat-eared foxes are also preyed upon by raptors and must keep a watchful eye while foraging. Most of their foraging is done alone at night.
Pairs or groups are often found residing near one another, and individuals come together at dusk to play and groom each other.
Bat-eared foxes mate for life, and sometimes two females will mate with one male and share a communal den. There is seldom record of more than one pair of adults occupying a den. The father is very invested in the rearing of young, and he spends a great deal of time babysitting.
While the father is watching the cubs, the mother is free to forage for food, including insects, which are a steady food source. Though they are low in nutrition and cannot be regurgitated for the young, they allow the mother to take in the necessary amount of food needed to produce milk for the cubs.
What the bat-eared foxes eat
While looking for food, bat-eared foxes walk slowly and quietly with their noses to the ground and their ears cocked forward, listening for insects.
Surviving on an all-insect diet required several adaptations in the bat-eared fox. In addition to their large and powerful ears, bat-eared foxes have specialized extra teeth for chewing up insects, and their lower jawbone is designed to open and close rapidly.
Their main source of food is the harvester termite but they also eat other insects and sometimes fruit. They pick up the movements of termites underground with their huge ears; Bat-eared foxes play an important role in termite control. A single Bat-eared fox can eat approximately 1.15 million termites each year.
The births coincide with the rainy season when termites are at their most active. Young are born after a gestation period of around two months. Average lifespan in the wild is 6 years.