The Fennec is the smallest of the Canidae (dog family), typically weighing less than 1.5kg and standing approximately 20cm at the shoulder, with distinctively large ears. The fur is soft, long and pale, varying in colour from whitish-sand over most of the body, to fawn-cinnamon on the tail and back of ears. Fur covers most of the body (except the inside of the ears), even extending over the pads of the feet, possibly an adaptation to high ground surface temperatures, locomotion in soft sand, and possibly noiseless movement whilst stalking prey. The tail is arguably the easiest means of distinguishing the fennec from the similarly-sized Rüppell’s and Pale foxes. Fennecs have a tail approximately 50% of the length of their head and body, with a black tip, while Rüppell’s have a tail approx 70% of their head-body length, with a white tip. By comparison, the Pale fox is slightly larger, greyer in colour, has smaller ears and a longer bushy tail with a black tip. Fennec have a prominent dark patch at the dorsal base of their bushy tails, and some dark areas extending from the inner eye toward the outer part of the muzzle (although not as obvious as in the Pale or Rüppell’s foxes).
Fennecs are found most often alone or in pairs. Studies of captive fennecs and some observations of wild fennecs indicate they are monogamous. Young from a previous litter commonly stay with the parents, sometimes even after the new litter is born. Typically females bear one litter per year but can produce more if the first fails. Gestation is 50-51 days and litter size is typically between 2 and 5. Young reach full size and sexual maturity in 9-11 months.
Fennec are nocturnal, but have been observed in some areas to be crepuscular. They rest in their burrows for most of the day but can often be seen resting at the burrow mouth during the early morning or evening. At night they hunt using mainly their acute sense of hearing, and dig for their prey rather than pounce like other foxes. Small rodents and lizards are killed with a bite to the nape of the neck (see photo in gallery).
Larger food items may be cached for later consumption. Insects and birds are also part of the fennec’s diet. It is thought that fennec are highly opportunistic and literature is borne out by observations of fennec entering human settlements presumably to scavenge food. The fennec is at least partly sympatric with, and in competition with, Rüppell’s foxes and pale foxes in some areas.
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