Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Batty Break from Hyenas

Though my heart will always belong to hyenas, it’s hard not to get invested in some of the other animals we see in the Mara every day. I thought I’d take today’s blog to share with you a little about one of my personal favorites: the bat-eared fox.

A pair of foxes who live in Serena South territory. Thanks for letting us hang out within photo-taking distance of your kits!
Adult bat-eared foxes are a pretty common sight around Serena camp. To my delight, we recently stumbled on several dens of fox kits around our territories, and I think we can be forgiven for taking 5 minutes out of our busy days to sit and watch these adorable fuzzballs romping in the grass.

I'm pretty shocked Disney has never made a movie about one of these. 
The most prominent feature on a bat-eared fox is, of course, its ears. While they do add to the fox’s irresistible charm, they play a couple more important roles. The first is the most obvious: the bat-eared fox has incredibly acute hearing, and is able to locate and dig up beetle larvae tunneling underground. Bat-eared foxes are primarily insectivorous, although they won’t turn their noses up at the occasional lizard, baby bird, or rodent.

Digging for some tasty, tasty insects. 
The second role of their enormous ears is to help the foxes deal with the heat of their savanna homeland. Each ear is densely packed with blood vessels, allowing the fox to vent excess body heat into the atmosphere. This adaptation is a common one in warm-weather animals; take a look at an elephant’s ears, or a cousin of the bat-eared fox, the fennec fox. Increasing the surface area of skin exposed to air is a handy method of cooling down when you live this close to the equator.

A pile of fox kits stumbling out of the den, while a parent keeps a wary eye on us. 
Bat-eared foxes are socially monogamous, which means they will spend most of their lives with a given mate. Both parents take turns foraging and caring for their kits. When they reach 6 months of age, the kits will go out into the great wide world, looking for a territory and a mate of their own. Until then, we’re always happy to watch them take their wobbly first steps out of the den, pouncing on their siblings and harassing their parents as every good child should.


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