Posts Tagged ‘Lycalopex’

This animal is a pampas fox (Lycalopex gymnocercus), which is also known as Azara’s fox or Azara’s dog.  Its association with the name Azara comes from Felix de Azara, a Spanish military officer who was in the region to negotiate the border between the Spanish colonies and Portuguese Brazil in the late eighteenth century.

This animal is called a fox only because it superficially looks like one.

Lycalopex is a relatively new name for the genus, which is part of the South American wild dog clade.   This clade includes all South American wild dogs, and they are actually within the tribe canini. With the exception of the Urocyon “foxes,” all extant dogs are either in the canini tribe or the vulpini tribe.  All true foxes, as well as the raccoon dog and the bat-eared fox,  are vulpini.

Thus, all the dogs in South America that are called foxes are actually more closely related to wolves, jackals, and coyotes than they are to the foxes of the Old World and North America. The name Lycalopex is a portmanteau of the Greek words for wolf (lycaon) and fox (alopex).

At one time Lycalopex was called Dusicyon.  This genus was based upon the Falkland Islands wolf (Dusicyon australis), which was well-known to British naturalists. However, by the 1970’s, it became clear that the Falkland Islands wolf, which went extinct in the 1870’s, was quite different from the South American “foxes.”  Recent genetic studies have since revealed that the Falkland Islands wolf was more closely related to the maned wolf than to these animals.  Thus, the Falkland Islands wolf remains in Dusicyon, and these South American foxes are placed in Lycalopex to keep both genera monophyletic.

It’s actually quite difficult to tell the South American “foxes” apart.  With the exception of Darwin’s fox (L. fulvipes), these animals are wide-ranging and do have quite a bit of overlap in size and color. The largest species, the culpeo (L. culpaeus) can approach the coyote in size, and early naturalists often conflated coyotes and culpeos in their accounts. But the others are quite a bit smaller.

The pampas fox is found from southern Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia south into Argentina.  They can be found in most of Uruguay and to the northern edge of Patagonia.

They haven’t been widely studied– probably because they aren’t particularly endangered.



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The guanaco or (a very close relative to it) is the wild ancestor of the llama.

I did call these foxes zorros.

I personally like the Lycalopex genus name. It means wolf-fox in Greek, and that’s what they are.  Not only do they look like coyotes, they are more closely related to wolves and coyotes  than to true foxes.

This particular species appears to be the chilla or “South American gray fox,” a name I refuse to use because Urocyon, my gray fox, is also found in South America.

Culpeos also annoy guanacos.

Both take their crias.

And the best offense is a good defense.

So the domestic llama naturally hates the very idea of anything that looks like dog.

That’s why they are so good at keeping coyotes out of flocks.

They are dog haters from way back.

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The mystery wild dog from yesterday was a culpeo (Lycalopex culpaeus), the largest of the South American “foxes,” which are more appropriately called “zorros.” They are actually far more closely related to the genus Canis and its allies. In recent years, it has been commonplace for the genus for the South American “foxes” to be referred to as Lycalopex, which is derived from the Greek words for wolf (Lycaon) and fox (Alopex).

This particular culpeo is performing the deed for which they are famous– begging for food. They are also not above stealing food or robbing hen houses. They are considered sheep-killers in their native range. They also have recently been found to  prey on South American camelid crias, which may be one reason why domestic llamas typically hate dogs with a passion.

The name for this species is derived from culpable, the Spanish word for guilty. (It is not pronounced the same as the English word “culpable.”)

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