The Bat-Eared Fox

bat-eared-fox-aiyana-udesen
 
Odd Creatures is a recurring column about the World’s Weirdest Animals written by award-winning science writer and author Bec Crew, and illustrated by the super-talented Aiyana Udesen!
 
 
A paleontologist once told me there’s no way you can do his job without having a healthy sense of humor. You spend your life literally knee-deep in the bones of some of the strangest creatures to have ever walked the Earth – creatures that have also been dead for hundreds of millions of years – and meanwhile someone somewhere is performing a heart transplant on a nine-year-old girl. Not that paleontology isn’t important, of course it’s important, but you’re gonna have to be ready to laugh it off when someone asks you why you didn’t choose a more practical line of research.
 
People who research extant animals, with their boundless idiosyncrasies, weird body parts, and even weirder sex stuff, are often quick to admit that they’re working with some pretty funny material too. And sometimes the only way to get themselves in on the joke is through the naming rights, if they’re lucky enough to have discovered a new species.
 
Take Colon rectum, for instance. That’s the formally accepted scientific name of a little species of fungus beetle. First described in 1933 by University of Washington entomologist, Melville H. Hatch, C. rectum was soon joined by Colon forceps, Colon monstrosum, Colon grossum, and Colon horni in Hatch’s new Colon genus. Hatch was such a respected figure in the research community that even the most devout prudes had little option but to go with it.
 
Aha ha, Gelae donut and Kamera lens are all legit scientific animal names too.
 
Sometimes the joke is hidden in the translation. When you translate the Greek and Latin words that make up the name Osedax mucofloris – which is a tiny marine worm that feeds on whale carcasses – you get “snot-flower bone-eater”. Nice.
 
And that lovely looking fox-dog up there with the shady black eye mask? Its name is Otocyon megalotis, which means literally, “ear-dog large ears.”
 
So yeah, bat-eared fox from the African savannah has ridiculously large ears – they’re 13 cm long and its body is only 55 cm long. But the joke’s on us because while we have to work jobs and earn money to keep ourselves fed, all the bat-eared fox has to do is listen.
 
Imagine being able to pick up on the sound made by miniscule termites and beetle larvae as they move about under the ground. That’s what the bat-eared fox’s ears allow it to do. They can even locate a handful of termites based solely on the crunching noises they make as they feed. Around 80 to 90 percent of the bat-eared fox’s diet is made up of termites, and it will eat around 1.15 million of them every year.
 
Bat-eared foxes display extremely strong social bonds, and are usually found in extended family groups of around 15 individuals. More often than not, they mate for life, and when a litter of pups is born, the females will leave the den at night to find food while the males stay behind to guard the den and groom his progeny. When the pups are old enough to find mates of their own, they’ll run around their family’s territory and pee on a bunch of grass patches to advertise their scent. If a member of the opposite sex is interested, they’ll cover the scent mark up so their competition doesn’t get a whiff, and work on getting themselves acquainted.
 
 
—Bec Crew / @BecCrew

One Comment, Comment or Ping

  1. Charles Turner

    Check out the Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature website maintained by Mark Isaak if you enjoy nomenclatural humor. I also recommend Doug Yanega’s Curious Scientific Names website.
    http://www.curioustaxonomy.net/
    http://cache.ucr.edu/~heraty/yanega.html

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