Oral Presentation- Symposium 12th International Mammalogical Congress

The sensory world of a large-eared canid. (#246)

Aliza le Roux 1 , Rebecca J Welch 1 , Samantha Renda 1
  1. University of the Free State-Qwaqwa, Phuthaditjhaba, Free State, South Africa

The bat-eared fox (Otocyon megalotis) is a medium-sized meso-predator common to arid and semi-arid zones in southern and eastern Africa. Although anecdotal evidence suggests that their primary sensory organs are their eponymous, large ears, no researchers have investigated these foxes’ sensory umwelt. We performed field experiments and conducted 24 months of behavioural observations to ascertain which sensory modality is favoured by these myrmecophageous mammals. Furthermore, we assessed how environmental factors would impact on foxes’ foraging as well as anti-predator behaviour, considering the importance of different sensory systems. A series of choice experiments in the Kalahari Desert indicated that foxes rely primarily on auditory cues when hunting for invertebrate prey. Olfactory information appeared to be of secondary importance, while vision was the least reliable indicator of success in these experiments. In line with the hypothesis that bat-eared foxes’ vision was a less prominent sensory modality, foxes’ risk-taking behaviour was not impacted by vegetation height or density. Observations of natural foraging behaviour, however, indicated that wind noise – decreasing the availability of acoustic information – did not reduce foraging success, suggesting that bat-eared foxes are able to exploit an alternative source of information during unfavourable conditions. These data represent one of the most comprehensive investigations of carnivore sensory ecology, highlighting several novel approaches that may be applied to research on other mammals living in the arid zones of the world.