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the web of life in southern Africa

Otocyon megalotis (Bat-eared fox)

Delalande's fox [English]; bakoorvos, bakoorjakkals, draaijakkals [Afrikaans]; Löffelhund [German]; otocyon [French]; bweha masigio [Swahili]; unga [isiNdebele]; impungutye [isiXhosa]; udlamWoshana [isiZulu]; motlhose [Sepedi]; phokojwe e ditsebe tsa mankgane, motlhose [Sesotho]; motlhose, motlhose, letlhose, tlhose, tlhOsi [Setswana]; udlamWoshana, imphungushe [siSwati]; xilwanandau, xilwa-na-ndzawo [Xitsonga]; phunguhwe i re na ndevhe khulwane [Tshinvenda]; ||Āb [Nama] [Damara]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Synapsida (mammal-like reptiles) > Therapsida > Theriodontia >  Cynodontia > Mammalia (mammals) > Placentalia (placental mammals) > Laurasiatheria > Ferungulata > Ferae > Carnivora > Family: Canidae (foxes, dogs and jackals)

Otocyon megalotis (Bat-eared fox)
Otocyon megalotis (Bat-eared fox)

Otocyon megalotis (Bat-eared fox), Serengeti Plains, Tanzania. [photos Peet van Schalkwyk ©, see also scienceanimations.com]

Otocyon megalotis (Bat-eared fox) Otocyon megalotis (Bat-eared fox)

Otocyon megalotis (Bat-eared fox), Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Otocyon megalotis (Bat-eared fox), Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]


The name Bat-eared fox originates from their large bat-like ears, used for hearing and to give off body heat. This species is small and jackal like in appearance with slender black legs and a black sharp-pointed muzzle. A light or white band runs across the forehead to the base of the ears. The coat is silver-gray, and longish with a grizzled appearance. The tail is long and bushy, black on top and near the tip. They are not jackals, but the Afrikaans names are Bakoorjakkals or draaijakkals. Draaijakkals describes how it runs as it twists and dodges and can turn quickly on its own track.


Total Body Length: 75-90 cm; height at shoulder 35 cm; weight range 3 -5 kg.


The jaws are not very strong and the teeth are small and weak. But they have lots of teeth varying from 46 to 50, with between 4 and 8 extra molars for grinding. The bat-eared fox has more teeth than any other mammal. Mastication (chewing) is very fast and prey is well chewed. A step-like protrusion, the subangular lobe, on the lower jaw anchors the large digastric muscle. This causes a quick chopping jaw action with very little side-to-side movement.

Dental formula:

 I C P M = 46 or 50

Distribution and habitat

Widespread in western and central areas of the southern African subregion. It prefer areas of short grass or bare ground in open grassland or scattered shrubland

General behaviour

Bat eared foxes are active mainly at night (nocturnal) but are seen during the morning or evening, avoiding the heat of the day by sheltering in thick shrub, tall grass areas or burrows. It is an active digger and will excavate its own burrows, but often modifies those dug by another species. It is normally silent, but communicates with soft contact calls, whines and chirps. It uses a loud bark when alarmed.


Bat-eared foxes locate their prey primarily by hearing. While foraging it stops periodically with head cocked and ears pointing to the ground, listening for the sounds of grubs and termites below the surface. It then leaps forward and digs shallow holes with its fore paws. The claws on the forefeet are long and ideal for digging in even the hardest soil. An insect eater, it is the only carnivore to have largely given up eating mammalian prey. They cannot tackle big prey.

A large part of diet consists of termites and dung beetles, other prey items include insects, millipedes and centipedes, scorpions, spiders, fruits, eggs, snakes, lizards, frogs, occasional small mammals, birds and soft tubers and roots.


Pairs mate for life (monogamous), and family groups consist of parents and their offspring. Different family groups may mix together when feeding. The gestation period is about 50 days long; litters of two to five cubs are born in underground dens from October to January, dispersing in June or July.

Otocyon megalotis (Bat-eared fox)

Bat-eared fox with cubs, Kgalagadi Transfontier Park, South Africa. [photo Callie de Wet ©]


Predators occasionally include large raptors and caracal and they succumb to diseases such as rabies and distemper. Their resemblance to jackal leads to conflict with stock farmers who falsely accused of them of killing live stock and regard them as vermin. They also become victims of traps set for problem animals and large numbers are killed on the roads. Currently the species is not regarded as threatened but there is the future threat of loss of suitable habitat due to human activities, building, farming, etc.

Text by Denise Hamerton