Named after its enormous ears disproportional to its body like a bat, the bat-eared fox (Otocyon megalotis) is a dog (Canidae) species found in open, arid areas of eastern and southern Africa. Its other names include black-eared fox, big-eared fox, long-eared fox, Delalande’s fox, cape fox, and motlosi.
The bat-eared fox is a small but striking silver-grey insectivore (feeds on insects, warms, and invertebrates), generally yellowish-brown with a pale throat and underbelly.
The outsides of its ears, the racoon-like face-mask, lower legs, feet, and tail tip are all black. It’s small and jackal-like with slender legs and a sharp pointed, relatively long muzzle.
The bat-eared fox has reasonably long, silvery grey hair with a distinctly grizzled appearance. The bushy tail is black above and at the tip. The front of the face is generally black, with a light or white band running across the forehead to the base of the ears.
Aside from their big ears, they are unique from other fox species by the number of their teeth — up to 50 — more teeth than most placental mammals.
They often hang out in pairs or small family groups during the cooler hours of the day.
Associated with dry open country, the bat-eared fox is quite common in the Kidepo Valley National Park and Pian Upe Game Reserve in the north est but absent elsewhere in Uganda.
The bat-eared fox’s diet primarily consists of insects and other arthropods, occasionally small rodents, lizards, the eggs and chicks of birds, plant matter and many invertebrates. Harvester termites and dung beetles can make up 80 per cent of its diet.
These foxes obtain much of their water from the body fluids of these insects feeding off grass above ground. Because large herbivores such as wildebeest, zebra and buffalo also feed on this grass, bat-eared foxes hang out near large herds of these hoofed animals to easily spot their prey.
Furthermore, bat-eared foxes are also associated with these mammals since they eat the dung beetles that feed on and lay eggs in the ungulate’s faeces. The foxes use their large ears to listen for beetle larvae gnawing their way out of the dung balls.
The bat-eared fox usually forages alone, but sometimes you may find many foraging where insect prey is abundant. They can harvest more termites by hunting in a group rather than separately over the same ground at the same time.
Bat-eared foxes are nocturnal — most of the time, they come out of their underground dens at dusk to forage under the night sky.
They are highly social dogs, often living in pairs or groups with rarely overlapping home ranges. In Uganda, the bat-eared fox lives in couples or stable family groups consisting of a male and up to three closely related females with cubs.
They forage, play, and rest together in a group to use the advantage of numbers against predators. They also use that time together after a hunt to engage in grooming sessions and strengthen group cohesion, mostly between mature adults but also between young adults and mature adults.
Bat-eared foxes passionately use visual communication — when looking at something intently, they will hold their head high, open their eyes wide, straighten their ears facing forward and close their mouth. To announce a threat or show submission, an individual will pull their ears back and lower their head.
They also use their tails to communicate — when an individual is asserting dominance or aggression, feeling threatened, playing, or sexually aroused, they will arch their tail in an inverted U shape.
When faced with extreme threats, a bat-eared fox’s hair will stand straight to make it appear larger. Its tail will straighten horizontally when running, chasing, or fleeing a predator.
The bat-eared fox uses very few vocalizations for communication but makes contact and warning calls, mostly during wet, cold nights.
In Uganda, you can spot the bat-eared fox in Kidepo Valley National Park and Pian Upe in the northeastern Karamoja region.
On a wildlife viewing game drive or walking safari in Kidepo Valley, you’re most likely to spot the jackal, large herds of buffalo and most of the antelope species found in Uganda, including Jackson’s hartebeest, eland, oribi, Uganda kob, and klipspringer.