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Lycalopex Fulvipes

dnaoodb: professional biology database , biology encyclopedia

in biology, Lycalopex Fulvipes (Alias:Darwin's Fox or Darwin's Zorro,Zorro Chilote and Zorro De Darwin) is an endangered canid from the genus Lycalopex. The body length is 48-60 cm, the average shoulder height is 25 cm, the tail length is 17-26 cm, and the weight is 1.9-3.9 kg. It is a very small fox. The coat color is dark gray with red on the legs and face. There are white or cream-colored hairs on the abdomen, throat, chest and ears. The red hair on the ear shell is particularly bright.

Lives in the coastal temperate forests of southern Chile. Prefers secondary forest to adapt to areas typical of temperate rainforest plants. On Chiloe, the forest is Valdivian. It contains coniferous tree species, a few evergreen tree species and strips of fruit trees. Omnivorous, eating mainly small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, beetles, other invertebrates and fruits, but also carrion.

Charles Darwin discovered and named the animal in 1834 while traveling through the island of Chiloe. Darwin's fox only lives in Chile, South America. More than 90% of Darwin's foxes live in two areas along the southern coast of Chile: Nahuelbuta National Park and the temperate forests of Chiloe Island, 600 kilometers to the south.

Scientific classification

Lycalopex Fulvipes,Darwin's Fox,Darwin's Zorro,Zorro Chilote,Zorro De Darwin
2n = 42
Protection level:
Named by and Year:
Martin, 1837
Subphylum Vertebrata
Class Mammalia
Lycalopex Fulvipes
Mode Of Reproduction:
Reproductive Form:
Sexual Reproduction


Darwin's Fox has a head and body length of 53 cm, a tail length of 22 cm, a foot length of 10 cm, an ear length of 26 cm, and a weight of 2.8 kg. It is a very small fox, about the size of a house cat. This fox is characterized by short, round ears, relatively short legs, a slender body and a short, bushy tail.

Their fur is a mixture of black and gray, dark gray in color with red on their legs and face. There are white or cream-colored hairs on the abdomen, throat, chest and ears. The red hair on the ear shell is particularly bright. There are purple-red markings on the ears and along the lower legs, and white or light-colored markings under the chin and lower abdomen.

Males and females are not dimorphic, but males do have a larger separation between the upper canine teeth than females, resulting in a wider muzzle. Gear type: 3/3-1/1-4/4-2/3 = 42.

Taxonomy And Evolution

Lycalopex is a South American genus of canine distantly related to wolves and is technically not a fox. When Charles Darwin collected a specimen from San Pedro Island in Chiloé Archipelago in December 1834 during the Beagle survey expedition, he observed that this "fox (of Chiloe, a rare animal) sat on the point & was so absorbed in watching [survey work], that he allowed me to walk behind him & actually kill him with my geological hammer". In the 1839 publication of his Journal and Remarks, Darwin said "This fox, more curious or more scientific, but less wise, than the generality of his brethren, is now mounted in the museum of the Zoological Society." He said it was "an undescribed species", indicating that it was distinct from the species (L. culpaeus and L. griseus) that occur on the mainland. Later, Darwin's fox was classified as a subspecies (Lycalopex griseus fulvipes) of the latter.

Darwin's fox does not interbreed with the other Lycalopex species, only lives in forests, and is smaller and darker-colored than the other species. In 1990 a small population of Darwin's fox was found on the mainland in the forested Nahuelbuta National Park, indicating that the fox was not endemic to the island. According to Yahnke et al., in their 1996 article published in the Journal of the Society for Conservation Biology, analysis of mitochondrial DNA of Darwin's fox and the gray fox showed two patterns, indicating Darwin's fox was a new species, closely related to the Sechuran fox. Also according to Yahnke (1995; et al.1996) the present restricted range is a relic of a much wider former range. Zoologists noted the distinctiveness in the ecological niche, appearance, and behavior of this species. Darwin's fox is differentiated from the gray fox in being darker; having shorter legs; a broader, shorter skull; smaller auditory bullae; a more robust dentition; and a different jaw shape and style of premolar occlusion.

In the late Pleistocene, Chiloé Island was connected to mainland Chile by a land bridge. The land bridge was severed about 15,000 years ago when the sea level rose following the last glaciation. This created two isolated populations of Darwin's fox.


Prefers to live in secondary forests, a typical area of temperate rainforest plants. On Chiloe, the forest is Valdivian. It contains coniferous tree species, a few evergreen tree species and strips of fruit trees. The northern and eastern areas of the island are inhabited by humans, and agriculture has also had some impact on this geographical landscape. On the west coast of the island, Darwin's foxes take advantage of fragmented evergreen forest habitats caused by sand dunes. Continental populations are found in dense forests of Araucaria and five species of beech trees.

Living Habits

Darwin's foxes are active during the day and night, with no differentiation between the sexes, and are solitary outside of the breeding season. It is a non-territorial animal that typically shares its home and core range with other foxes. Parents share their home with their offspring. Subadults may be hindered by the availability of open range areas after denning and may therefore remain in the parental home until given the opportunity to leave. Darwin's foxes, like other dogs, make extensive use of olfactory cues, vocalizations, and gestures to communicate. Generally speaking, foxes have keen senses of smell, hearing and touch.

Darwin's foxes are omnivores and opportunists. Diet varies according to the season. Contains a variety of foods including small mammals, birds, crustaceans, reptiles, insects, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds. Fecal analysis data showed that insects were the most abundant food item, but small mammals accounted for the greatest biomass in the diet. While Darwin's foxes may congregate where there are carrions, they are primarily solitary hunters. In areas where South American gray foxes occur, Darwin's foxes are more active at night because South American gray foxes are less active.

The natural predator of the mainland population of Darwin's fox is the puma. Large birds of prey also prey on these foxes, especially young ones.

Reproduction Method

Darwin's foxes are monogamous. Little is known about the mating behavior of this species. Darwin's foxes breed once a year. The breeding season begins in October in the Southern Hemisphere in spring, and the pups leave the nest in December. Litter size is 2-3. Weaning is in February. Both parents raise the cubs together, and their lifespan can reach 7 years.

Population Status

Protected by Chilean law since 1929. Darwin's fox is listed as an endangered species in Chile. The Ministry of Environment has been developing a recovery, conservation and management plan for the species since 2012, but the plan has not yet come into effect.

Darwin's fox lives in the following public reserves: Nahuelbuta National Park, Alaire Secostero National Park and Chiloe National Park. In addition, this species is found in the following private reserves: Caramávida Reserve, Oncol Park and Valdivian Coastal Reserve as well as Tantauco, Ahuenco and Tepuhueico Parks. Some of these reserves attempt to address the problem of Darwin's foxes being hunted by domestic dogs by conducting monitoring, support or research on the species.

Darwin's fox is one of the conservation targets of the Valdivia Coast Reserve. Based on the criteria of Simonetti and Mella (1997) and the densities reported by Jiménez (2007), it is possible to assume that a prime area of approximately 550 km2 can sustain around 500 individuals (2015). Chiloe's Tantauco Park and the entire area protected by the Valdivian Coastal Reserve and Alerce Costero National Park are the only reserves that meet this criteria, but that doesn't guarantee the survival of so many foxes as they do in Valdivi Populations in Ahuenco are even rarer, and Ahuenco fox densities may be much higher than in other areas (Jiménez 2007).

Darwin's foxes face threats from humans when they leave the park during the winter in search of milder climates in unprotected private areas. People thought these foxes were intruding on their poultry and they were poisoned, or caught and killed in traps. The destruction of the island's mountain forests is also a major issue related to the Darwin Fox Nature Reserve. Wild dogs are the biggest threat to foxes' survival, as are domestic dogs.

The remaining Darwin foxes in Nahuelbuta National Park are seriously threatened by various diseases brought by domestic dogs. Park management regulations stipulate that dogs must be on leashes when entering national parks. However, these regulations are not followed, and domestic dogs freely chase foxes in the park.

Although there is a sizable fox population on Chiloe, logging and poaching of temperate forests also threaten their survival. The main cause of poaching is the capture of young foxes for sale as pets.


The species is often plagued by Mycoplasma haemocanis. The already endangered fox is prone to this infection because the infection's bacteria attach themselves to surface red blood cells of many mammals, and although the species is believed to be no major threat to human life it can spread to humans, dogs, cats, and other wildlife species. The bacteria also seem to spike when located close to any major habitat inhabited by humans as well as where there is a large population of wild dogs present near the species. Researchers are testing RNA subunits of RNase P gene and out of 10 foxes, nine were infected. Even though they are considered "sick", they have no external symptoms (Cabello, 2013). Studies show that many foxes risk of catching the deadly bacteria inclines as they age leaving many older foxes vulnerable. Although the disease is prevalent in this species, little to nothing is known about this disease.