Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Strange Case of the Desert Fox

Annamaria, pinch-hitting for Susan on Sunday

A bit of explanation: Our dear Susan Spann reached out for help because she is in Japan and can’t log on to Blogger to post for herself today.  So I agreed to fill in, knowing full well that a day will come soon, when I am on the road and will need her to return the favor.  For now, I offer you a mystery in the hopes that you will have some advice about how solve it.

You see the desert fox may be living under cover in my kitchen.

No.  This is not about him:

 Generalfeldmarshall  Rommel died over seventy years ago.  This concerns something currently alive and eating.

I have posted here before about the papyrus plants growing in my apartment.

When I am out of town, I move two of them from my dining room to the kitchen where they can soak up some direct sun in front of the window.   I have had these plants for over thirty years without incident.  But when I returned last month from Bouchercon and Mississippi, I found something I had never seen before. 

The fronds of my papyrus ordinarily look like this:

But something had been chewing on the ones nearest the kitchen window.

MMM, I thought.   I wonder what could have done that. 

So I did an experiment to see if whatever it was was still at it.  I moved one perfectly whole frond to the place were the chewed ones had sat.  The next day I found the evidence.

My Google search (what eats papyrus?) turned up little to go on.  A couple of Google Books covers and pages:


No help there.  Only one plausible answer: according to Google the Egyptian Desert Fox (or fennec) eats papyrus!  It gave no other answer.  MMM.


I read up on this critter, and found it  has another feature that coincides with my experience—it is nocturnal.  And it could even  turn out to useful.  In addition to plants, it also eats insects and rodents.  Eggs, too, but since it has not learned to open the fridge, I think tomorrow’s omelet ingredients are safe.

There are some things about the fennec fox that could turn out to be alarming.  It can jump up two feet high and leap four.  Given which, I hope the one in my kitchen looks more like this—


…than like this—

The range of the desert fox might make you think it implausible as an explanation for my lost papyrus fronds.

On the other hand, this little guy is available as an exotic house pet.  But then how could someone else’s household fennec have made its way into my apartment?  Another mystery to be reckoned with.

So far I have not discovered any other creature that comes close to a plausible answer. 



  1. Here's a more likely, though nowhere as romantic a culprit.

    1. Yes, but I don't have a cat. In fact, I am allergic to cats. Come to think of it, maybe a cat has moved in. I just thought my fall allergies were particularly bad this year. If there is a cat that I can't see living here and making my nose run and giving me migraines, how do I get it to go away? HELP!

  2. I'm with Jeff. I had to move our new spider plant up onto a high window sill because our cat decided it was the best green grass it had access to. Usually we take him out side and let him eat some grass outside, then he comes back in and throws it up on our floor. He gets the vitamins and nutrients from the grass, and our rugs get fertilized...

    And Yoda we had once, but lives he ran out of.

    1. Eva, Now there is an idea. Could it be a spider that is is doing the eating? It would have to a be a BIG one. Or a lot of them to eat almost a whole front overnight. YIKES! I think I would prefer the fox, thank you very much.

    2. I think - stand to be corrected - that all spiders are carnivorous. On the other hand, I had papyrus around a swimming pool once that suffered from burn if it dried out in the sun. Could that be the problem?
      But the fox is so much more fun! Maybe a short story in that!

    3. Michael, Whatever is doing this is definitely chewing. And the damage seems to have stopped over the past few days. Perhaps the fennec achieved its goal of becoming the subject of a blog and has gone on to bigger and better ways of promoting itself as a pet of choice.

  3. That is one adorable fox, can't believe he'd eat your plant. Such an innocent-looking face.

    I wish he was here in my apartment fending off certain critters.

    1. Kathy, it is adorable. The research I did said that, as exotic pets, fennecs are legal in some places but not in others. Not sure about NYC. I'll find out.

    2. Okay, Kathy, here is the answer on NYS laws concerning fennecs:
      "Many people are not likely to be aware that fennec foxes actually make great pets (for the right owners) and at their mature size weigh about the same as a Chihuahua. They are also probably less ‘dangerous' than one. In fact, the state of New York, while having bans on ‘wild animals’, actually explicitly states an exception for fennec foxes, and they are legal to own as pets currently." But, be forewarned. They may eat your plants. :)

  4. Even more of an issue is can they be housebroken? I can't imagine cleaning up after a fox. (I had enough problems in college cleaning up after a rabbit.)