Rueppell’s foxes (Vulpes ruepellii) are widespread. They are found in desert regions of North Africa and the Arabian peninsula, from as far east as Pakistan, to as far northwest as Israel and Jordan. Subspecies are often named based on their geographical distribution.
Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native ); ethiopian (Native )
Distribution in Egypt
Rueppell’s foxes are small foxes with a predominately sandy-colored coat. A gray color morph also occurs, apparently an adaptation for living in rockier areas. Much of this species' body plan reflects its adaptation to the harsh climate. Like many desert dwelling foxes, Rueppell’s foxes have large, broad ears, and feet with furred pads that protect them from the heated sand.
Vulpes rueppelli is slender and has a long, bushy tail with a white tip. The legs and muzzle are both short. The predominate color is “buff”, which is a sand-like color, but there are white hairs that make up the dense undercoat. Gray markings on the face are quite diagnostic of this fox. Although V. ruepellii is often confused with fennec foxes, fennec foxes are generally smaller than Rueppell’s foxes. Vulpes rueppellii, on average, achieves a body length of 40 to 52 cm with a tail length of 25 to 39 cm. At the shoulder, they reach 30 cm and they weight around 1.2 to 3.6 kg. Males tend to be slightly larger than females, but in other respects, the sexes are monomorphic.
Vulpes rueppelli is slender and has a long, bushy tail with a white tip. The legs and muzzle are both short. The predominate color is “buff”, which is a sand-like color, but there are white hairs that make up the dense undercoat. This fox has gray markings on the face, that help distinguish it from other foxes. Although V. ruepellii is often confused with fennec foxes, fennec foxes are generally smaller than Rueppell’s foxes. Males tend to be slightly larger than females.
Range mass: 1.2 to 3.6 kg.
Range length: 40 to 52 cm.
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Rueppell’s foxes are highly adapted to their desert habitats. They inhabit a wide range of substrates, but are most common in areas with sandy or dry, stony desert substrate. Due to competition with red foxes, Rueppell’s foxes have been pushed to more extreme habitats that red foxes do not dominate.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune
Habitat and Ecology
The Rüppell's Fox also lives in coastal areas, with extremely sparse vegetation and without any trees. They are able to survive in areas with little available water, as in central Saudi Arabia (Mahazat as-Sayd protected area) on the fringes of the Arabian Empty Quarter (Lindsay and Macdonald 1986; Murdoch et al. 2007), in Algeria (De Smet 1988) and in Western Sahara, where observations do not show any relationship with the distance to the nearest available water (F. Cuzin, unpubl.).
As with many desert predators, Rueppell’s foxes will eat almost anything that crosses their path. They are omnivores, partaking in anything from insects and small mammals to roots. Rueppell’s foxes tend to be mainly insectivores, but will chase and grab anything they can catch and eat.
Animal Foods: mammals; reptiles; eggs; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods
Plant Foods: roots and tubers
Primary Diet: omnivore
Rueppell’s foxes serve as a population control for both rodents and insects. These pests can be very detrimental to humans considering both are important disease vectors as well as crop destroyers.
Due to the inhospitable habitat they occupy, Rueppell’s foxes have few predators. Their main predators are aerial predators such as steppe eagles and eagle owls. The fur of these animals is often closely matches the substrate, helping to conceal them from predators. Pups are hidden underground to further prevent predation.
- steppe eagles
- eagle owls
Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic
Life History and Behavior
As mentioned before, Rueppell’s foxes spend much of their time scent marking. They have a variety of scent glands, especially toward the anus. Foxes often sniff each other's anal glands in a greeting. This behavior is widespread within the family Canidae. Females mark their dens with their violet glands and are often sniffed by the male as he passes.
The type of communication that most dogs are known for is their ability to make some sort of barking noise. Rueppell’s foxes are no different, but only tend to use their bark or yelp when they are alarmed. When content, a fox tends to exhibit low chattering and long moans.
These animals have a well developed visual ability, and may use some visual communications, such as body postures, to communicate with conspecifics. Because they are social, tactile communication, especially between parents and offspring and between mates, is likely to be important also.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: pheromones ; scent marks
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Rueppell’s foxes have a lifespan in captivity of approximately 6.5 years to 12 years. Their lifespan in the wild is unknown, but is probably greatly shorter due to pressures such as predation and competition with red foxes. The maximum lifespan of these foxes in the wild has been estimated at approximately 6 years.
Status: captivity: 6.5 to 12 years.
Status: wild: 6 years.
Status: wild: 9 (high) years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Like most canids, Rueppell’s foxes form monogamous pairs in the mating season. Little is known about the specific reproductive ecology of Rueppell’s foxes. There have been sightings of family groups, which may indicate the existence of an extended family, as has been observed in species like red foxes. In Oman, breeding pairs patrol a territory and usually den together. Cohabitation of the same den does not occur during the non-breeding season.
The process of attracting mates is not completely understood, but Rueppell’s foxes possess a vast array of scent glands. Male and female canids typically spend a great deal of time scent marking. Males may be able to sense heat through the vomeronasal organ. It is likely that Rueppell’s foxes are similar to other canids in these respects.
Mating System: monogamous
Rueppell’s foxes probably breed in winter, from November to January, considering related species such as fennec foxes and red foxes breed at this time. Females give birth to 2 or 3 helpless pups in March. Pups are blind at birth. The gestation period is thought to be around 50 days, similar to red foxes. Rueppell’s fox pups are thought to be completely weaned at 6 to 8 weeks. Pups are thought to become independent around the age of four months. They reach sexual maturity within the first year.
Breeding interval: Rueppell's foxes breed once yearly.
Breeding season: Breeding occurs from November to January .
Range number of offspring: 2 to 3.
Average number of offspring: 2.
Range gestation period: 50 (low) days.
Average gestation period: 50 days.
Range weaning age: 42 to 56 days.
Average time to independence: 4 months.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 years.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; viviparous
Average number of offspring: 2.
Many specific details on parental investment patterns of Rueppell’s foxes are unknown. However, the parents both serve important roles. In Oman, a female defends the den from her mate, but he remains in the area, never denning more than 200 meters away. A male may bring his mate food, like many other foxes do, or regurgitate food, a common practice in canids. Pups are independent after four months.
Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Protecting: Male, Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); post-independence association with parents
Rueppell’s foxes are listed as DD (data deficient) by the IUCN. This species seems to be widespread but rare in its range. The actual population size of this fox is unknown. The main threats to it are habitat destruction and indiscriminate poisoning. Also competition with red foxes is making Rueppell's foxes compete for resources.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 2004Data Deficient
- 1996Data Deficient
- 1994Insufficiently Known(Groombridge 1994)
- 1990Insufficiently Known(IUCN 1990)
Status in Egypt
In Israel, the species is fully protected by law, and no hunting, trapping or trading is allowed. In Morocco, according to the annual hunting decree, Rüppell's foxes and red foxes may be hunted during the whole year, as they are considered as pests. In Arabia, no species-specific laws or regulations protect Rüppell's Foxes outside of protected areas. There is no information for other countries.
Rüppell's Foxes are held in captivity, including in the Rabat Zoo, Morocco; the Dubai Zoo, and the Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. Attempts to breed Rüppell's Foxes have generally not been very successful (Ginsberg and Macdonald 1990), although they have been successfully bred in the Hai Bar Breeding Centre, Eilat, Israel (E. Geffen pers. comm.).
Gaps in knowledge
The status and ecology of North African populations remains largely unknown. Monitoring of populations in well-established protected areas throughout the species' range is encouraged. There is scope for detailed study of competition between Rüppell's and red foxes.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Rueppell’s foxes are considered pests because they are thought to eat poultry and other domesticated animals. They are also known vectors for the rabies virus. Vulpes vulpes appears to be the much more significant source of rabies however.
Negative Impacts: causes or carries domestic animal disease
Rueppell’s foxes are not hunted often, but may be killed by locals. They are neither sold as pets or hunted for fur. These foxes do kill many pest species that cause millions of dollars in damage to crops.
Positive Impacts: controls pest population
Rüppell's fox (Vulpes rueppellii), also spelled Rueppell's fox, is a species of fox living in North Africa, the Middle East, and southwestern Asia. It is named after the German naturalist Eduard Rüppell. Rüppell's fox is also called the sand fox, but this terminology is confusing because the corsac fox (Vulpes corsac) and the Tibetan sand fox (Vulpes ferrilata) are also known as the "sand fox".
Rüppell's fox is a small fox, measuring 66 to 74 cm (26 to 29 in) in total length, including a 27 to 30 cm (11 to 12 in) tail. Males appear somewhat larger than females, but both sexes are reported to have an average weight of 1.7 kg (3.7 lb). The coat is sandy in color, ticked with numerous white hairs, and fading from reddish along the middle of the back to pure white on the animal's underparts and on the tip of its tail. The head has a more rusty tone on the muzzle and forehead, with dark brown patches on the sides of the muzzle, stretching up towards the eyes. The chin and the sides of the face are white. The whiskers are long, reaching 7 cm (2.8 in), and the tail is bushy.
Rüppell's fox has fur on the pads on its feet, that possibly helps distribute their weight and move easily on sand, and keeps the hot sand from burning their feet. Similar to other desert dwelling foxes, Rüppell's fox has large ears to cool it off. Although adults are too large to confuse with fennec foxes, which live in the same area, young Rüppell's foxes can be confused with adults of the latter species. The larger ears, however, make them easy to distinguish from red and pale foxes, which also live in some the same areas. In addition, the coat of a Rüppell's fox is much paler than that of a red fox, while pale foxes lack the white tip on the tail.
Distribution and habitat
Rüppell's fox is found across North Africa south of the Atlas Mountains, from Mauritania and Morocco in the west to Egypt and Djibouti in the east. It is also found in the Arabian Peninsula southwards from Syria and Iraq, and as far east as Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Within this region, it prefers sandy or rocky deserts, but may also be found in semi-arid steppes and sparse scrub.
Rüppell's foxes are monogamous and either crepuscular or nocturnal, sheltering during the day in dens. Outside of the breeding season, these are small dens that can hold only one adult fox, and the animal typically changes dens every five days or so. Breeding dens are larger, and occupied by a pair of adults and their pups. Such dens can sometimes have more than one entrance, although this is unusual. Most dens are dug under rocks, or under trees.
Rüppell's foxes have anal scent glands, which are used in greeting one another, and to spray predators. Females also use their scent glands to mark the cubbing den. They make series of short barks during mating, but, at other times, can also produce hisses, trills, and sharp whistles. They have been reported to wag their tails, like domestic dogs.
Rüppell's foxes occupy distinct territories, which they mark with urine, but not with dung, as red foxes do. The territories of the members of a mated pair overlap almost completely, but are entirely separate from those of any neighboring pairs. These territories are maintained throughout the year, although the pair occupy separate dens outside of the mating season. The size of the territories varies with the local terrain, but has been reported as around 70 km2 (27 sq mi) in Oman, with those of males being larger, on average, than those of females. The foxes range widely during their nocturnal foraging, travelling over 9 km (5.6 mi) in a night.
Rüppell's fox was pushed to living in the desert biome due to competition with its larger cousin, the red fox. It is known[by whom?] as being an extremely good survivor. Their only natural predators are the steppe eagle and the eagle owl.
Rüppell's foxes are omnivores, and with a diet that varies considerably depending on what is locally available. In some regions, they are reported to be mainly insectivorous, especially feeding on beetles and orthopterans, while in others, small mammals, lizards, and birds form a larger part of their diet. Plants eaten include grass and desert succulents, along with fruits such as dates, and they have also been known to scavenge from human garbage.
Mating occurs in November, a few weeks after the female has prepared her breeding den. Litters of up to six cubs, although more usually just two or three, are born after a gestation period of around 52–53 days. The young are born blind, and are weaned at 6–8 weeks of age. They reach independence at about four months, when they may travel up to 48 km (30 mi) in search of a suitable territory. They live for at least seven years in the wild, but have been reported to live for up to twelve years in captivity.
Interaction with humans
- Vulpes rueppellii rueppelli
- Vulpes rueppellii caesia
- Vulpes rueppellii cyrenaica
- Vulpes rueppellii sabaea
- Vulpes rueppellii zarudneyi
Rüppell's fox in philately
The Libyan Posts (General Posts and Telecommunications Company, GPTC) in cooperation with the WWF, dedicated a postal stamps issue to Rüppell's fox on May 1, 2008. The issue is made of a set of four stamps printed in minisheet of two sets. The issue was completed with a special First day of issue Cover having a special postmark.
- Wozencraft, W. C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 532–628. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
- Cuzin, F., Lenain, D.M., Jdeidi, T., Masseti, M., Nader, I., de Smet, K. & Murdoch, J. (2008). Vulpes rueppelli. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 22 March 2009. Database entry includes justification for why this species is listed as least concern
- Larivière, S. & Seddon, P.J. (2001). "Vulpes rueppelli". Mammalian Species: Number 678: pp. 1–5. doi:10.1644/1545-1410(2001)678<0001:VR>2.0.CO;2.
- Lindsay, I.M. & Macdonald, D.W. (1986). "Behaviour and ecology of the Rüppell's fox Vulpes rueppelli, in Oman". Mammalia 50 (4): 461–474. doi:10.1515/mamm.19188.8.131.521.
- Libyan Stamps online