• The fennec fox (Vulpes zerda) is a member of the Canidae family of animals that also includes domestic dogs, jackals, and coyotes. They are the smallest of all the species of fox. Foxes can be found in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. The native geographic range of the fennec fox is throughout most of North Africa, including the vast Sahara.  

    This fox is a great example of adaptations in animals. It has physical features that allow it to thrive in the arid environments of Africa’s northern region. Its large ears help radiate heat and keep it cool in the hot daytime. Desert environments have a large range of daytime and nighttime temperatures, and their light-colored, thick fur helps insulate them at night to keep warm yet also protects them from the sun during the day. The fur on the bottoms of their feet helps keep them protected from the hot sand. 

    Fennec foxes find most of their food through digging, using their keen sense of hearing to locate prey moving underground. Their diets consist of insects, small mammals and birds, lizards, and eggs. They also consume vegetation, which is where they get most of their water. Fennec foxes do not require a separate water source—another incredible desert adaptation. 

    They also dig into sand dunes and other hilly areas to construct their underground dens where they live with their mates and families. A male and female fennec fox typically mate for life. Dens can be extensive, with multiple entrances. Scientists are interested in learning more about the social behaviors of fennec foxes, as very little is known of their behaviors in the wild.

    Although fennec foxes are not considered endangered, there are still threats to their populations. Most commonly, they are trapped for use in exhibitions for visitors as well as for sale as pets. Adults foxes are also sometimes taken from the wild for their fur and meat.  

    1. The fennec fox is known for its large, distinctive ears that are adaptations to the arid desert environment that the fox lives in. What are two ways that the fox utilizes this adaptation?    

      The large ears of the fennec fox help keep the fox cool, acting as a radiator and releasing heat. They also help assist the fox in listening for signs of life, on the sand and underground, as the fox searches for food to eat.

    2. Which organ of the fennec fox is the most specially adapted to deal with processing the small amounts of water the fox takes in from the vegetation it eats and other sources?

      The kidneys are the major organ used by many animals to remove waste materials and excess water from the blood. In the fennec fox, the kidney helps regulate and store water that the fennec fox needs.

    3. What other species of canids are adapted to live in extreme environments such as the desert or the Arctic?

      Canids are the most widely geographically distributed family of carnivorous mammals. Many species of canids are adapted to the desert environment, including the fennec fox and the golden jackal. The arctic fox is an example of a canid species specially adapted for cold, polar desert environments.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    adaptation Noun

    a modification of an organism or its parts that makes it more fit for existence. An adaptation is passed from generation to generation.

    Encyclopedic Entry: adaptation
    Canidae Noun

    family of mammals that includes dogs, wolves, and foxes.

    den Noun

    protected shelter of a wild animal.

    desert Noun

    area of land that receives no more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of precipitation a year.

    Encyclopedic Entry: desert
    sand dune Noun

    mound of sand created by the wind.

    vegetation Noun

    all the plant life of a specific place.