I think it’s about time I write about one of my all-time favourite animals, the fennec fox. I have a soft spot for all foxes, because they are all so adorable, but the fennec fox takes the cake. I first encountered a fennec at the Living Desert, a really nice little zoo in Palm Springs. We saw him just before meal time, and the little guy was frantic. He was pacing back and forth at top speed, something we thought was very comical at the time. Pacing in zoo animals is usually a bad sign, but to be fair it was just before dinner. The Living Desert also gets a lot of its animals as rescues, so that may be where this fox’s issues stemmed from. Despite all that, I instantly fell in love with the fennec fox. I even have a stuffed toy of one, named Phillip.

Fennec foxes are the smallest extant species of canid (a family that includes wolves, coyotes, foxes and other species), weighing only 1.5-3.5 lb. They live the desert in northern Africa, and are specially adapted for the hot, dry climate. The most notable of these is the fennec fox’s comically large ears. Ears are often used by desert animals as a means to dissipate heat; they are inundated with blood vessels and the thin skin means heat can readily leave the body. You see this adaptation in a lot of desert species. While desert animals often have ridiculously large ears, arctic animals are the opposite – their ears are usually tiny, to minimize heat loss. Just look at this comparison between a fennec fox and an arctic fox:

Images Kkonstan, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons (Left) and By Jonathen Pie https://unsplash.com/@r3dmax, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons (Right)

The difference is pretty obvious. Those conspicuous ears aren’t the only adaptation the fennec fox has for living in the desert. It has a thick coat, which protects it from the sun during the day and keeps the fox warm on cold desert nights. Even the fox’s paws are covered in fur, to protect the skin from the hot sand. The fennec’s kidneys are adapted to an extremely low-water diet – in fact the fennec fox can survive without drinking standing water. It gets the water it needs to live from the food it eats and from dew that forms in its dens.

The fennec fox is unusual among foxes in that it lives socially in packs, much like wolves. Fennec fox pairs mate for life, living in families that share communal burrows, which can be as large as 120 square meters, and have up to 15 different entrances. These dens provide the foxes with shelter during the day, and at night the fennecs come out to hunt.

The main prey of fennec foxes is small rodents and insects. It finds its prey using those giant ears that make it so adorable. To hunt, often fennecs will stand perfectly still, and twitch their heads from side to side to locate prey that is either underground or hidden from sight. I can’t imagine anything more adorable than a fennec fox standing there just moving its head around quizzically. Except perhaps this:

Image by yvonne n from willowick, usa, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Due to its social nature, the fennec fox is only species of fox (other than the Siberian fox, which has been specially bred for domestication as part of a long-running genetic experiment in Russia) that can be properly kept as a pet. They are commercially bred, and usually pups are removed from their mothers and hand-reared, to make them more friendly. As much as I disagree with keeping exotic pets, I would love to have a fennec fox.

As a last random fact to wrap this post up, I’d just like to say that one of the starter Pokémon in the newest games (X and Y) looks to be a fennec fox. It’s definitely a fox and has big ears, and is called Fennekin, so I’m guessing a fennec is what it’s supposed to be. I’m definitely going to be picking it when the games come out! Anyway, I hope this post brightened your day, even if it was just because fennec foxes are so darned cute.

Cover image by I, Wildfeuer, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons