Are Fennecs Foxes?

2010/11/02
By Sabrina

Photo source: Joachim Muller

Fennecs are not a popular type of fox. In case you never in fact have heard of one, Fennecs are a type of fox found in the Sahara Desert and also in North Africa. Fennec Foxes, however, vary greatly compared to other foxes because of their unique traits.

They are very special additions to the desert because they are the only animals that are carnivores in the Sahara Desert. Being nocturnal animals they have a greatprivilege because they do not have to deal with the climate in the day such as the scorching heat. Their ears (similar to the shape of bats ears) help radiate heat within the Fennecs body to keep it cool. However, at night in the desert it tends to get very cold, the thick hair covering their body helps cover their body. The hair covers their entire body, even including their feet! This fur also helps protect their small paws from the extremely hot sand. It is important that their feet remain in good condition because they need them for digging to make dens in the sand to live in. Due to the fact that they live in underground dens, the hair is essential because it helps protect their bare skin from the scorching hot sand and hot rays of the sun. This also helps them protect themselves from predators by hiding in these dens.

It is still debated whether or not a Fennec Fox does indeed belong to the fox category. They show similar traits when compared with a cat or ferret.  It is proven that most foxes only have 35 to 39 chromosome pairs depending upon which species they are, but the Fennec only has 32 chromosome pairings. This is a remarkable difference because they have a greater difference in traits then a normal fox and they have less chromosome pairings. 

Do you think Fennecs belong in the category under foxes or under their own and why? Fennecs are sometimes a domesticated, do you think this is a good idea, getting back to the fact they are wild animals, who live in the desert?

  • Taylor

    Cool post Sabrina. I tend to think that Fennecs belong to the fox family, as opposed to their own group. The “fennec fox”, also known as the desert fox, is a beautiful, small member of the canine family. Fennec foxes can be kept as pets, although they are not very common. They are petite animals, but do acquire very large ears.Fennec foxes have a weight of 2 – 3.5 pounds. They have a soft, thick, short coat that is off white color. They are very active, quick and agile, and have a high pitched yelp.
    Many believe that fennecs are ancestors of chihuahuas, rather than a form of a fox. Being that foxes and dogs are from the same canine family, its not too hard to believe that chihuahuas are descendants of fennecs. Both share very similar characteristics, including large ears and large eyes.
    For further reading, see this website:
    http://fennecfox.biz/could-fennec-fox-be-the-ancestor-of-chihuahua/

  • Andrea

    Nice topic, Sabrina. I found some research on when you keep a Fennec as a pet, and it said that they need extra attention. When not domesticated, Fennecs dig a lot to make dens for themselves and to find prey – they could use this skill to dig holes under fences to escape. They are also able to jump very high, and can potentially jump over fences to escape. When in a large unenclosed area, the Fennecs should be kept on a leash because they could be very hard to catch if they are chasing after something. And as do dogs, the Fennec would attack if they feel cornered or threatened. But there is a plus side to having them as a pet. They’re omnivores, and will eat fruit, insects, small rodents, or even dog or cat food.
    http://exoticpets.about.com/cs/fennecfoxes/a/fennecfoxes.htm

  • Nick

    Hey Sabrina, I’m glad you picked a topic you liked. I think that the Fennecs are classified under there own group. The reason for this is because an animal is usually classified by the amount of chromosomes it has. Since a Fennecs chromosome count is different from a fox’s it should not be classified as the same species. I think a Fennec is not a good domesticated animal, because it has characteristics for the desert, and since it has these characteristics, it would not be necessary to live in a house hold environment, also it has sharp teeth which could hurt an average person. The website below shows why Fennecs can’t be domesticated.

    http://fennecfoxes.webs.com/fennecfoxes.htm

  • Alice

    Great post Sabrina! Before reading this post, I had never heard of Fennecs. I did a little more research about them because I was interested in whether they are scientifically considered to be foxes. In multiple dictionary sources, Fennecs are listed under the category of foxes. Although Nick makes a valid point about how chromosome count is the basis for animal groupings, I tentatively believe that Fennecs are indeed foxes because many of their characteristics are so similar to those of foxes. Although some of the traits of Fennecs are different from the majority of foxes, they are still widely considered to be foxes. On the National Geographic website, Fennecs are considered to be foxes and are said to be the smallest of all of foxes. I also believe that Fennecs should not be raised in a common household environment, like Nick said. Fennecs are wild animals and are not meant to be breeded and raised by humans. It seems unsafe for both the humans raising the Fennec, along with the animal itself.

    Dictionary Sources:

    http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/features/dictionary/DictionaryResults.aspx?lextype=3&search=fennecs

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/fennec

    National Geographic:

    http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/fennec-fox/

  • Deirdre

    Cute animal Sabrina! I have never heard of this type of fox and wanted to learn more about them. After researching I found out a few unique characteristics of this animal. Fennec Foxes are able to live without water. They have special kidney’s that are adapted to restrict water loss. I also earned that Fennec dens can be up to 120 square meters with at least 15 entrances. It has been seen that the foxes place dens close to family members, and in some instances have intertwining dens. I wonder if these animals practice kin selection.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fennec_Fox#Social_behaviour

  • Ms Baker

    Found on this website is an adorable video of a “domesticated” fennec fox:

    http://retrieverman.wordpress.com/2010/10/17/domesticating-the-fennec-dog-domestication-2-0/

    The Belyaev experiment also mentioned on this site is a POWERFUL example of artificial selection. We’ll discuss this experiment in class, but maybe a few students would like to click on the link about this experiment and describe it here? It has a lot in common with the attempt to domesticate fennecs.

  • Monica

    Due to the fact the Fennecs Foxes are the only carnivores in the Sahara Desert, it is rather dangerous to the keep them as domestic pets because if there were a lack of them in the Desert, it can alter the food chain. I don’t think that is because of the fact that they are from the Sahara desert why it would be a bad idea to keep them as domestic animals, because Dogs are naturally wild animals as well as cats and birds and they make wonderful additions to a household. It also seems rather unintelligent to keep them as domestic animals due to the fact that they are nocturnal. The only time you will be able to play with them is when you would be asleep? However, breeders and owners believe that they are wonderful pets. I thought that this blog was enjoyable to read, however, I would love to know more details about the Fennecs Fox’s habitat, it’s diet, and it’s predators. I am looking forward to articles to coming from you in the future.

    http://exoticpets.about.com/cs/fennecfoxes/p/fennecfox.htm
    http://www.buzzle.com/articles/fennec-fox-facts.html

  • Emily

    This is a very riveting post, Sabrina! After doing some more research and gaining more knowledge on the fox, I do not beileve that the Fennecs should be classified as foxes, but instead, be categorized under their own division. As you stated in the article, the Fennec has only 32 chromosomes, which results in extreme differences between the fox and the fennec. Also, they eat things like plants, rodents, eggs, reptiles, and insects, which makes them the only carnivore in the Sahara desert.
    I also believe that it is immoral to domesticate the Fennec. They often dwell in groups with around 10 other individuals of the same species in the Sahara, and they become extremely agressive when searching for mates each year. They are naturally wild animals and prefer to live where they originate, the Sahara Desert. It would be cruel to remove them from their natural habitat, and use them for the pleasure of humans. Although this may seem hypocritical, as most humans own some kind of dog or cat, that has been true for so many years now, and dogs and cats have adapted to life with humans.

    http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/fennec-fox/

  • Cartland

    Good post Sabrina! I also find some information about Fennecs after read your post.
    Basically, I think that why fenneces are so different from other fox is because they live in Sahara Desert. I’ve never heard that any kind of fox live in a desert.
    The surface of the desert ranges from large areas of sand dunes (erg Chech, Raoui), to stone plateaus (hamadas), gravel plains (reg), dry valleys (wadis), and salt flats. So we can see that the Sahara Desert is very arid, and it’s very changeable. And the fennecs need to be change because of the environment. I think that’s why they are not look like fox and they have so many traits.

    source:
    http://www.eoearth.org/article/Sahara_desert

  • Zach

    Great post Sabrina!! I seen fennec foxes in real life and they are unique animals. Referring to what Ms. Baker said, the Belyaev experiment was a major discovery in artificial selection. Belyaev was a Soviet geneticist who performed his experiments in the 1950s and 60s. Belyaev believed that domesticated animals resulted in genetic changes over the course of time by the process of selection. Unlike most other scientists at the time, he believed that behavior was the cause of these changes, not by size or how much the animal reproduces. In 1959, he started an experiment on which how different behavioral skills can change a species over time. He used grey foxes, which are untamed. As the experiment began, he kept the foxes in cages, and allowed less time with contact with humans. When new pups are about 3 months old, they are placed to experiment with feeding, in which the experimenters give them food, and then see if the pups interact with the other pups or the humans more often. When the pups are sexually mature, they are placed in classes based on tameness. Eventually, some of the foxes remained the same, while some have in fact became tame.
    I would now like to raise a question. How will this experiment, if performed, will react to this experiment? What could be a possible hypothesis for this experiment? These questions could relate to the fennecs by showing that there could be a possiblity that the fennecs can be fully tamed.

    Link: http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/feature/early-canid-domestication-the-farm-fox-experiment/1

  • Molly

    Interesting choice for a post, Sabrina. I agree with Andrea that although they may be difficult pets to raise and take care of, I think that with enough care and attention they could easily be considered “pets”. If you think about it, most household pets originated from similar wild speicies that would never be considered demestocated today. For example, dogs are common household pets that numerous amounts of people keep as company and train to do several tricks. Researchers at UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles), recently conducted a study to prove that dogs descended from wolves in the middle east. Their results showed that specific domesticated dogs can trace a common ancestor back to wolves that lived in the middle east through gentetics and the same DNA. Just like dogs, these fennec foxes can be domesticated even though they are wild animals.
    I don’t exactly agree that fennecs are classified under their own group, but I do think that these foxes can be considered foxes. According to National Geographic, researches consider this species a type of fox because they behave and act just like foxes. They also try to survive and reproduce in the same way. I don’t think their chromosome count affects if they should depend on what group they should be classified under.
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124768140
    http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/fennec-fox/

  • Noa

    Great post, Sabrina! Fennecs can be household pets; in fact they are basically a combination of a cat and a dog. They are the size of a cat, and have similar personalities to a cat, but have the energy of a dog. They don’t even smell, like a cat or dog would, unless they scared but that odor lasts only for a moment. They aren’t more or less time consuming then a dog would be, you would need to play with it and give it its exercise, but it also sleeps a lot too. They also come with the same precautions you’d have with a dog, you should keep small objects away from them because they will eat it and because they are small you should be careful not to step on them around the house! Fennecs do also bark like dogs, and snarl like them too when playing so don’t be worried if they make any weird noises at you. These animals are a lot like having a puppy in the house; they will chew on your furniture and aren’t automatically trained not to pee on your bed. They are trainable though, and aren’t completely wild in the sense that they love to be cuddled and held.

    http://www.fennecfoxes.net/faq.html

  • Gunnar

    wow great topic Sabrina! I personally believe that Fennecs are foxes. I did not know that foxes could live in deserts, or the Sahara Desert for that manner. I know from general knowledge that the Sahara Desert is very hot and i thought it was awesome that this animal is nocturnal so it can hunt at night so it doesn’t have to face the scorching heat. I also noticed that you mentioned that they have to have a lot of attention or else they can use there skills to dig under fences and i 100 percent agree with that because i have watched a video which i will post at the bottom of a fennec owner that is annoying it’s fennec with his camera and the fennec makes growling noises and tries to leave the area. I just thought that it proved that if you don’t treat a fennec right it will do what it knows whats est for him.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8GOEa5mx3s&feature=related

  • Leyla

    Great article, Sabrina! In terms of your questions, I believe that fennecs could possibly be pets. If a fennec is born in captivity rather than in the wild, it is unlikely for it to be any more dangerous than a a dog or a cat. After doing some research, I learned that fennec foxes are hunted for their valuable fur, and are nearly extinct. By this logic, I don’t believe that it would have negative ramifications for the fennecs at all if they are kept as pets; as a matter of fact, a fennec kept as a pet would most likely live a longer life than a fennec in the wild.

    http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/fennec-fox/
    http://www.squidoo.com/thefennecfox

  • Gurk

    Wow great job!Thanks Sabrina your blog post kept me up with this, I never knew this was being debated. Like Gunnar I agree that fennecs are foxes. Its not hard to notice that fennecs have some of the same abilities just like foxes. When I wanted to learn some more about fennecs, I started to do some research. What I learned, from this post was alot such as that the big ears they have are used to radiate heat from the Sahara heat. Even the fox’s feet are hairy, which helps them perform like snowshoes and protects them from extremely hot sand. The fox’s feet are also effective shovels for frequent digging.They live in underground dens.Fennecs foxes dwell in small communities, each inhabited by perhaps ten individuals. Like other, male fennecs mark their territory and become angry competitors when mating season arrives each year.
    Here is the link where I found this information.
    http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/fennec-fox/
    http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/fennec-fox/

  • Dan

    Great post, I think fennecs should be domesticated. Keeping in mind the creation of dogs, with the aid of artificial selection, fennecs can be morphed into a common household pet. Dogs were once wolves that would feed off the food waste of a human civilization. The wolves that were least afraid of the humans fed on their trash and survived. Eventually these calm wolves passed on their genes to the next generation. The growing populace of calm wolves encouraged the humans to domesticate them and use them to their advantage. Humans would breed the calmest of each litter and form them. I think that if we follow a similar principle with these foxes they may adapt into household pets.
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/01/5/l_015_02.html

  • Joe

    Great post Sabrina, Dan i couldn’t agree more with you. I think we should adapt the fennec and make it domesticated. I think that because a fennec fox is such a small animal, that the fennec can be an alternative to making dog breeds teacup or smaller. The fennec is said to be a lot like a dog and belongs to the same family. In fact, results show that fennecs do well as pets. They can be trained to a leash, litter box, and how to fetch and come. They seem to adapt quite well with food as pets and have shown to do well with other pets. I feel seeing this information and how cool and cute they are they should definately be domesticated.
    http://www.fi.edu/learn/heart/systems/excretion.html

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