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Fennec Fox (Vulpes zerda) Fact Sheet: Taxonomy & History

Taxonomy and Nomenclature


  • Family Canidae (Asa and Cuzin 2013)
    • Tribe Vulpini
      • Foxes
    • Tribe Canini
      • Dogs
      • Wolves
      • Jackals
      • Coyotes


  • Fennecus zerda (Stains 1975; Coetzee 1977)
  • Canis zerda (Harrison and Bates 1991)
  • Species synonyms: C. arabicus, aurita, brucei, cerdo, denhamii, fennecus, minimus, pygmeus, saharensis, zaarensis (Rosevear 1974; Larivière 2002; Asa and Cuzin 2013)

Common names

  • Fennec fox (English) (Wacher et al. 2015)
    • “Fennec” is a Latinized form of an Arabic word for “fox” (Rosevear 1974)
  • Fennec, renard fennec (French) (Sillero-Zubiri 2009a; Asa and Cuzin 2013)
  • Fenek, fennek, wüstenfuchs (German) (Dorst and Dandelot 1972; Sillero-Zubiri 2009a; Asa and Cuzin 2013)
  • Fenec, zorro del desierto (Spanish) (Sillero-Zubiri 2009a)
  • Fenek, fanak (Arabic) (Asa et al. 2004; Castelló 2018)
  • Фенек (Russian) (Castelló 2018)

Other colloquial or local names

  • Names given by Tuareg people (Asa et al. 2004):
    • Akori
    • Akorhal
    • Eresker
    • Ahuneski

Evolutionary History

Fossil history and evolutionary relationships

  • Canid fossil record
    • Patchy in northwestern Africa (see description by Geraads 2008)
    • Presence of small fox-like Vulpes species, similar to fennec fox, during Miocene (Geraads 1997; Geraads 2008)
    • Oldest Vulpes fossils from about 7 to 10 mya (Late Miocene) (Wayne et al. 1997; de Bonis et al. 2007)
  • Divergence from similar species
    • 7.4 mya (Miocene): fennec fox and pale fox (Vulpes pallida) (Leite et al. 2015)
    • 6.8 mya (Miocene): fennec fox and red fox (Vulpes vulpes) (Leite et al. 2015)
    • 4 to 4.5 mya (Pliocene): fennec fox and Blanford’s fox (Vulpes cana) (Geffen et al. 1992; Geffen and Girard 2003)
      • Coincided with formation of deserts in North Africa

Closest living/extant relative

  • Blanford’s fox, Vulpes cana (Geffen et al. 1992)
    • Closely related to Rüppell’s fox, Vulpes ruppellii (Leite et al. 2015), and red fox, Vulpes vulpes (Geffen et al. 1992; Wayne et al. 1997; Duke Becker et al. 2011; Leite et al. 2015)

Cultural History


  • Fennec foxes kept as pets by some Roman elite (Lewis and Llewellyn-Jones 2018)

Culture and folklore

  • Mascot in northern Africa
    • Fennec fox mascot named “Labib” used by Tunisian government to increase public awareness of environmental issues (1992 to 2012) (Poirier 1997)
      • Character’s image used on billboards, bumper stickers, t-shirts, and beach-going equipment
      • Popularity compared to U.S. Forest Service’s “Smokey the Bear”
  • Engineering applications
    • Design prototypes for improving traction on soft soils (e.g., space rover) inspired by fennec fox paw structure (Gendreau et al. 2015)

Television and film

  • Documentaries
  • Film and television
    • “Finnick”: a fennec fox character in Disney’s 2016 animated film, Zootopia (Xue 2016)
    • Fennec cartoon series (France) (1998)



  • Poetry
    • Elizabeth Arnold, “Like Water Flowing,” The Kenyon Review (Arnold 2013)
      • “The rust-white nocturnal desert fennec fox/ extended families scooting around/ some unrecognizable Mubarak-era buildings/ near the Aswan airport I saw on my way home/ for the last time with their out-sized ears—/they can hear the underground movement of prey … ”


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Canidae — foxes, wolves, dogs

Genus: Vulpes (Zimmermann, 1780)

Species: Vulpes zerda — fennec fox


Sources: Asa and Cuzin (2013)

Fennec Postures

Postures and prey of fennec fox

An illustration of fennec foxes by Richard Lydekker (1916).

"Fennec and Jeroba"; Plate 15 in Lydekker's Wild Life of the World (1863).

Image credit: Made available by Biodiversity Heritage Library (contributed to BHL by Smithsonian Libraries). Public domain.

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