n African Zoology - Parental care in a polygynous group of bat-eared foxes, (Carnivora: Canidae)

Volume 35, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1562-7020
  • E-ISSN: 2224-073X
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This study reports the first recorded instance of polygyny and communal nursing in . The polygynous group, which was studied in the Kalahari Desert, consisted of a male, two lactating females and a litter of five pups. New aspects of parental care that were observed include the bringing of food items to pups at the den. Although bat-eared foxes in this area seldom capture lizards for their own consumption, lizards were the main food item carried to the den. It is suggested that bat-eared foxes specifically seek out lizards because they are more easily transportable than their normal insect prey. Despite this behavioural adaptation, there is relatively little opportunity for the male to contribute to the nutrition of the pups when compared to the contribution made by the males of large carnivorous canids, which routinely bring large volumes of meat to the den. Instead, young bat-eared foxes depend heavily on milk, so the females have to forage for extended periods to replenish their milk supplies. This study shows that the major duties of males are guarding and grooming the pups while the females are foraging. In this social context there are relatively few disadvantages in sharing a father between two litters and these disadvantages are occasionally outweighed by the benefits of communal care, amongst which are cooperative attacks on predators and alternate nursing.

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