by Beatrice Fox, as told to Hannah Schardt; photos by Suzi Eszterhas
I’m a small mama fox with enormous ears—all the better to hear you with!
Hey! You there! Don’t think I can’t hear you trying to sneak up on me. With ears like these, I hear everything.
I’m a bat-eared fox, and these are my bat-eared babies, or kits. (We’re named after big-eared fruit bats. Funnily enough, fruit bats are sometimes called flying foxes!) Aren’t my kits adorable? Sure, their ears haven’t yet grown to maximum size. Just one week ago, their ears were even tinier and their eyes were sealed shut (see circle). But in a few months, my kits will be as big as house cats, with beautiful ears the size of iPhones—just like their parents. Want to know more about my batty clan? Keep reading, and I’ll give you an earful!
HOME, SWEET DEN
My kits and I live in the Masai Mara, a protected place for wildlife in Kenya (see map). There aren’t many trees around here, and the grass is kept short by grazing animals. So to hide out from the blazing sun, we spend most of the daylight hours down in an underground den. (We come out at dusk to hunt and play.)
We dig some of the dens ourselves. And some once belonged to aardvarks or other animals. With a little do-it-yourself home improvement (thanks to our sturdy claws), even an old termite mound can become a cozy den!
We never stay in one den for long. A den can get infested with pests. Or it may get noticed by a honey badger or jackal that would like to snatch one of our kits for dinner. So every few days, we carry our pups to a new place.
I think I’m a pretty great mom. After all, I nurse my babies for more than three months. But I couldn’t raise these kits without help from their dad. He does a lot of the baby care around here: grooming, protecting, and helping to carry them from den to den. And once they are old enough to eat solid food, he’s on meal-delivery duty.
WHAT'S FOR DINNER?
Nothing makes my mouth water like the sound of insects scurrying at my feet! Let other kinds of foxes snack on mice and rats. We bat-eareds prefer termites, the ant-like insects that live in colonies around the grasslands. But we aren’t too picky. Dung beetles? Delish. Millipedes? Marvelous. Scorpions? So-so, but they’ll do in a “pinch.”
Our mouths are built for feasting on insects. We have more teeth than any other member of the dog family, and our chompers are small—perfect for grinding tough insect parts. Our jaws are made to chew extra-quickly so our prey can’t get away.
HEAR ME OUT
And then, of course, there are our glorious ears. These fuzzy “satellite dishes” help us pick up the faint sounds of tiny creatures moving on the ground. And once we hear insects, we lick ’em up!
But hearing isn’t all these ears are good for. Since they are so large and packed with blood vessels, they draw a lot of warm blood away from our bodies. The blood vessels are close to the surface of our ears, so the heat escapes easily, cooling us down on a hot day. Three cheers for our hardworking ears!
"Listen Up!" originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Ranger Rick magazine.
Click here for a closer view of the photos.