Fennec foxes are known for their gigantic ears and cute snub noses. These tiny desert-dwellers capture the hearts of everyone who sees them. Fennec foxes live in zoos all around the United States, and in many homes too. But where are do they live in the wild?
Fennec foxes live in North Africa. They are native to the dry and sandy Sahara desert, and elsewhere throughout the Sinai and Arabia, from Morocco to Sudan, and even as far northeast as Israel.
If you want to learn more about fennec fox habitats, where they are from, and how they behave in the wild, you are in the right place.
Where is the fennec fox from?
Fennec foxes prefer sandy deserts and arid regions with dry, desert grass and scrub vegetation. While these conditions are harsh for humans, to the fennec fox they are perfect!
Fennec foxes are indigenous to a large swathe of northern Africa. While its primary stomping ground is the Sahara Desert, its wild population is spread right across North Africa. From Morocco on the Atlantic coast in the west, as far south as Niger, and as far east as the Sinai Peninsula, southwest Israel and the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Sudan in the southeast. The fennec fox certainly knows how to live.
Stretching across northern Africa in a thick belt – which includes one of the largest, driest areas on the planet – you might expect fennec foxes to be well adapted to dry habitats. And you would be right!
Fennec fox habitat
Fennec foxes tend to occupy underground dens, protected from the blistering heat of the Saharan sun by a thick layer of sand and dusty soil. Without this covering, they would burn up in the day, and likely freeze at night.
In compacted soils, fennec fox dens can be as large as 120m2, and adjoin the dens of other families. They might have as many as 15 entrances. In looser, sandier soil, dens cannot be as large or convoluted and tend only to have one entrance. These dens are dug either in open areas or locations sheltered by plants with stable sand dunes.
This is also the reason why to have a fennec fox as pet, you will need a large space for them to run about.
Where can fennec foxes be found in the wild?
During the day, fennec foxes are dormant, either sleeping or bonding in family units. The best way to spot a fennec fox in the wild is to wait out at night. As they are nocturnal predators, this is the time you are most likely to see them.
Fennec foxes are considered very difficult to capture (more on this below). Reports of predation are anecdotal and questionable. So you have to be very lucky to spot on when caracals and striped hyenas are unable to!
Fennec fox habitat temperature
Fennec foxes are accustomed and adapted to live in high-temperature, low-water, desert environments. However, in the heat of the desert, almost no animal lurk above the surface during the day. The sun is so piercingly hot, and the sand so temperature-absorbent, that it is foolhardy for a small mammal to spend more time than is absolutely necessary above ground.
Fennec fox dens are significantly cooler than the temperature on the desert surface. This allows them to retain water and live longer.
How does fennec fox survive in the desert under such heat?
Fennec foxes are extremely well-adapted, and uniquely so, to their desert habitat. Here are a few ways they are adapted:
- Fennec foxes have giant, bat-like ears. While these certainly increase hearing sensitivity, they also serve another purpose. These large ears radiate heat, helping to keep fennec foxes cool. This is a feature the fennec fox shares with a much larger African mammal – the African elephant.
- Fennec foxes have a thick layer of fur on the soles of their feet. This protects them from the hot desert sand, which would otherwise burn their skin.
- Fennec foxes burrow deep into the desert sand, often as deep as 3 ft. Living in underground lairs like this helps fennec foxes to avoid the harsh desert sun.
- The fennec fox’s thick, fluffy, cream-colored coat provides excellent insulation during those cold, windswept nights in the desert. It also protects its sensitive skin from the hot sun during the day.
Is a fennec fox a prey or predator?
Fennec foxes are excellent at hiding from predators and adept at hunting in the desert. But they are not immune to the larger predatory animals of the desert. They are both predators and prey.
Fennec fox prey
While it gets a small portion of its nutrition from foraged eggs, fruits, vegetables and roots, the lion’s share of a fennec fox’s diet comes from hunted animals. These include:
What do fennec foxes eat in the wild?
A wild fennec fox will eat just about anything it can lay its paws on. Like most other desert dwellers, they are not fussy eaters.
For example, during the course of a day, a fennec fox might eat any of the above animals, as well as birds’ and lizards’ eggs, foraged fruits, roots and vegetables, and just about anything else edible that it comes across.
Read More: What do fennec foxes eat as pets?
Fennec fox predators
Fennec foxes have to compete with much larger desert predators. Most predators in the desert are indiscriminate. Therefore, fennec foxes have to watch their backs constantly, to make sure there’s nothing hunting them. Among its threats are:
- Striped hyenas
- Salukis (greyhound-like domestic dogs sometimes kept close to fennec fox habitats)
- Eagle owls
Humans also hunt fennec foxes for sale to the pet trade and for fur. They are rarely eaten by humans, who tend to regard their meat as foul-smelling.
How does the Fennec fox protect itself from predators?
Fennec foxes are well adapted to desert conditions. They are nocturnal predators, and their large, distinctive ears help them to hunt small rodents and lizards hiding beneath the sand.
- One of the ways in which they evade predation is by leaping 2 ft into the air, and 4 ft forward. This incredible jumping power assists fennec foxes in their capacity as hunters, as well as hunted.
- Another tool in the fennec fox’s armory is its ability to burrow. Fennec fox burrows provide excellent protection from predators. The thickness of the sand barrier separating them from the outside world is such that they are completely undetectable from the surface.
Fennec foxes are desert dwellers, and well adapted to the harsh environment they inhabit. They share this habitat with other, larger predatory mammals, such as caracals and hyenas, which they have to protect themselves from. Eagle owls are also a source of danger for fennec foxes.
In order to protect themselves and their families, fennec foxes dig burrows deep into the desert sand. These subterranean homes shield fennec foxes from the danger of predation and are significantly cooler than the surface temperature during the day.
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