Culpeos (Lycalopex culpaeus) are found in South America from Ecuador to southern Chile and Argentina. They are found throughout the Andes and the Patagonian steppe of Argentina. They may also occur in the Narino Province of southern Colombia, but this is still uncertain.
Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )
Lycalopex culpaeus is the largest member of the genus Lycalopex. Body weight ranges from 3.4 to 14 kg, with larger individuals occurring at higher latitudes, and males larger and heavier on average than females (11.65 kg compared to 7.82 kg, respectively). Head plus body length ranges from 445 to 925 mm and tail length from 305 to 493 mm. Culpeos vary in color, with lighter individuals in the northern parts of the range. The chin and belly are white to light tawny. The ears, neck, legs, flanks, and top of the head are tawny or reddish-brown. The area around the tail is usually darker, sometimes dark grey. The tail is bushy and grey with a black tip and a darker area near the rump. In the winter months, the fur becomes longer and denser. Larger size and reddish-brown fur distinguish culpeos from similar species.
Range mass: 3.4 to 14 kg.
Range length: 445 to 925 mm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
Culpeos are generalists when it comes to habitat selection. They can be found in the high-altitude foothills of the Andes and in the valleys surrounding them. Culpeos have been reported from 0 to 4500 m above sea level. Their habitat ranges from the forests of western and southern South America to the desert of the Patagonia region. Scrub and grassland are also occupied by culpeos.
Range elevation: 0 to 4500 m.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; savanna or grassland ; chaparral ; forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest ; mountains
Habitat and Ecology
Culpeos are omnivores and dietary generalists. Prey range from wild ungulates, hares, sheep, and small mammals to insects, birds, and lizards. Culpeos also eat carrion and fruit. Specific examples of items in a culpeo’s diet are Octodon degus, Oryctolagus cuniculus, and carrion of llamas and vicugnas.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; reptiles; carrion ; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods
Plant Foods: fruit
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates); omnivore
Culpeos serve important ecological roles. As predators on many different species, culpeos play a role in population control, and as prey and host, they provide energy to higher trophic levels. Also, culpeos eat fruit and are important in seed dispersal. The seeds of peumo (Cryptocarya alba) and Peruvian pepper (Schinus molle) have been recorded to germinate at higher rates if defecated by culpeos. Additionally, culpeos assist in biodegradation, by eating the carrion of other species.
Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds; biodegradation
- fleas (Pulex irritans)
- biting lice (Trichodectes canis)
Culpeos do not have any complex anti-predator adaptations, because they have few natural enemies. Pumas (Puma concolor) may prey on them occasionally, but this is not an important cause of mortality.
- pumas (Puma concolor)
Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic
Life History and Behavior
Lycalopex culpaeus communication in the wild has not been described. In captivity, culpeos make a mixed growl and scream noise. Like other canids, they are likely to use a broad suite of physical cues, scents, postures, and sounds to communicate.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: scent marks
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Not much is known about the lifespan of culpeos. The oldest culpeo discovered in the wild was estimated to be 11 years old. However, the method of aging was not defined, so the accuracy of this estimate is unknown.
Status: wild: 11 (high) years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Not much is known about the mating system of Lycalopex culpaeus. Closely related Argentine gray foxes, Lycalopex griseus, are monogamous, with the mated pair defending an exclusive territory. A second female may assist in taking care of young. Another member of this genus, Lycalopex fulvipes, also appears to be monogamous.
Lycalopex culpaeus females go into heat (estrus) from early August to October and are monestrous. Males produce sperm from June to mid-October. Gestation lasts for 55 to 60 days and the average litter size is 5.2. Newborns weigh 170 g on average and are born with their eyes closed. Weaning occurs at two months and young grow to full size within seven months. Sexual maturity occurs after one year.
Breeding interval: Culpeos breed once yearly.
Breeding season: Mating occurs from early August to October.
Range number of offspring: 3 to 8 .
Average number of offspring: 5.2 .
Range gestation period: 55 to 60 days.
Average weaning age: 2 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 ; viviparous
Not much is known about parental care in Lycalopex culpaeus. The species is generally solitary, but it has been reported that both parents might play a role in the care of offspring. As in other mammals, females nurse and care for the young extensively after gestation.
Parental Investment: altricial ; male parental care ; female parental care ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)
Lycalopex culpaeus appears to be able to withstand human hunting pressure and is maintaining a stable population.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: appendix ii
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 2004Least Concern
Culpeos appear to withstand intense hunting levels as shown by fur harvest data from Argentina and still maintain viable regional populations (Novaro 1995). Culpeo populations that are harvested intensively may maintain viable levels through immigration from neighbouring unexploited areas that act as refugia (Novaro 1995). The Culpeo population in Neuquén Province in north-west Patagonia for example, appears to function as a source-sink system in areas where cattle and sheep ranches are intermixed (Novaro 1997b). Cattle ranches where no hunting occurs supply disperser foxes that repopulate sheep ranches with intense hunting. Changes in sex ratio may be another mechanism that allows culpeo populations to withstand intense hunting (Novaro 1995). Furthermore, large litter size and early maturity (Crespo and De Carlo 1963) could explain the Culpeo's high resilience to hunting.
When hunting pressure is reduced, Culpeo populations usually can recover quickly (Crespo and De Carlo 1963). This increase was observed at the Chinchilla National Reserve (Jiménez 1993) and at Fray Jorge National Park (Meserve et al. 1987; Salvatori et al. 1999), both in north central Chile. Culpeo densities also have increased in many areas of Argentine Patagonia following the reduction of fur prices and hunting pressure in the late 1980s and early 1990s (Novaro 1997b; A.J. Novaro and M.C. Funes unpubl.). An exception to this response is the Culpeo population in Tierra del Fuego, where they are still declining in spite of several years of reduced hunting pressure (N. Loekemeyer and A. Iriarte pers. comm.).
Estimates from intensive trapping by Crespo and De Carlo (1963) provided a density of 0.7 individuals/km² for north-west Patagonia, Argentina. Thirty years later, Novaroet al. (2000b), using line transects, reported densities of 0.2–1.3 individuals/km² for the same area. In north central Chile, the ecological density of culpeos in ravines is 2.6 individuals/km², whereas the crude density (throughout the study site) is 0.3 individuals/km² (Jiménez 1993). In Torres del Paine, a crude density of 1.3 individuals/km² was reported based on sightings (J. Rau pers. comm.). Interestingly, a later estimate for the same area, based on telemetry, rendered an ecological density of 1.2 individuals/km² (Johnson 1992, in Jiménez 1993).
Based on radio telemetry, sightings and abundance of faeces, Salvatori et al. (1999) concluded that Culpeos respond numerically to a decline in the availability of their prey in north central Chile. Earlier, based on abundance of faeces, Jaksic et al. (1993) reached the same conclusion for the same Culpeo population. In contrast, Culpeos (not distinguished from sympatric Chillas) did not show a numerical or a functional response during a decline of their main prey at another site in north central Chile (Jaksic et al. 1992).
In Chile, the Culpeo occurs in 38 protected areas distributed throughout the country, encompassing all the habitats where it can be found. However, only 14% are large enough to support viable populations. In Argentina, the species occurs in 12 national parks and several provincial reserves, the majority of which probably support viable populations. In Peru, Culpeos occur in 13 protected areas (D. Cossios pers. comm.).
In Chile, hunting has been banned since 1980, although law enforcement is not strict.
The Argentine legislation about Culpeos is contradictory. Culpeos were considered "Endangered" by a 1983 decree of the Argentine Wildlife Board (Dirección de Fauna y Flora Silvestres), due to the numbers of culpeo pelts traded during the 1970s and early 1980s. However, trade at the national level and export of Culpeo pelts was legal during that entire period and currently remains legal. The Culpeo's endangered status has never been revised in spite of marked changes in the fur trade and reports from monitoring programmes. The Tierra del Fuego population has been legally protected since 1985 (N. Loekemeyer pers. comm.).
In Peru, the Culpeo is not considered endangered and hunting may be legal if a management plan is approved by the government (D. Cossios pers. comm.). In Bolivia, although the fur export was banned in 1986, the species is not protected (Tarifa 1996, L. Pacheco pers. comm.).
The Argentine Wildlife Board is starting to develop a management plan for canids that will include the Culpeo (V. Lichschein and M. Eliseth pers. comm.). Five regional workshops that included wildlife agency officials from provincial governments, wildlife traders, conservationists, and scientists have been held in Argentine Patagonia during recent years (the last one in 2002) to coordinate efforts to manage culpeo populations in a sustainable manner and reduce sheep predation. Similarly, in Chile, two national carnivore workshops have been organized by the Livestock and Agricultural Bureau during recent years. These were aimed at presenting new findings on the natural history of canids, including Culpeos, and wildlife-livestock issues and to discuss ways of improving our knowledge and better protecting Chilean carnivore populations.
The Culpeo is common in zoos throughout Chile and Argentina.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Culpeos occasionally feed on livestock, such as sheep and chickens, and are said to be a major cause of sheep predation in Patagonia.
Culpeos have long been hunted and trapped for their fur, providing an important source of income to inhabitants of Chile and Argentina. Also, culpeos eat carrion, which provides an important service to the ecosystem that could be seen as a benefit to humans.
Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material
The culpeo (Lycalopex culpaeus), sometimes known as the zorro culpeo or Andean fox (wolf), is a South American species of wild dog. It is the second largest native canid on the continent, after the maned wolf. In its appearance it bears many similarities to the widely recognized red fox. It has grey and reddish fur, a white chin, reddish legs, and a stripe on its back that may be barely visible.
The culpeo's diet consists largely of rodents, rabbits, birds and lizards, and to a lesser extent, plant material and carrion. The culpeo does attack sheep on occasion, and is therefore often hunted or poisoned. In some regions it has become rare, but overall the species is not threatened with extinction.
This is a fairly large canid, intermediate in size between a red fox and a coyote. The mean weight of the much larger male is 11.4 kg (25 lb), while females average 8.4 kg (19 lb). Overall, a weight range of 5 to 13.5 kg (11 to 30 lb) has been reported. Total length can range from 95 to 132 cm (37 to 52 in), including a tail of 32 to 44 cm (13 to 17 in) in length. The pelage has a fairly attractive, grizzled appearance. The neck and shoulders are often tawny to rufous in color with the upper back is dark. The bushy tail has a black tip.
Its distribution extends from Ecuador and Peru to the southern regions of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. Some populations live in southern regions of Colombia. It is most common on the western slopes of the Andes, where it inhabits open country and deciduous forests. Populations of the culpeo are also found in some of the westernmost of the Falkland Islands, where they were introduced by humans.
The culpeo fox is an opportunistic predator that will take any variety of prey. This fox mainly feeds on rodents, lagomorphs (especially the introduced European rabbit and European hare) and occasionally feed on domestic livestock, and young guanacos. Culpeos are considered beneficial because they are significant predators of the rabbits introduced in 1915; such introduced rabbit populations are believed to have allowed culpeos to spread from the Andean foothills across the Patagonian plain. They sometimes take young lambs a week old and younger. In limited studies, the larger culpeo appears to dominate potential competitors, including South American gray foxes, Geoffroy's cats, Pampas cats, grisons and various raptorial birds. Its range also overlaps that of the much larger puma, but the size difference ensures that the two species have limited competition.
The culpeo lives in a wide variety of habitats of western South America. They are found in broadleaf Nothofagus temperate rainforest, sclerophyllous matorral, deserts, and high plateaus, like the Altiplano, up to the tree line (4800 m).
The typical mating period is between August and October. After a gestation period of 55–60 days, the female gives birth to cubs. The females usually give birth to 2-5 pups among the rocks.
The taxonomy of the culpeo has been the topic of debate due to their high phenetic variability and the scarcity of research, among other things. Over the past three decades, they have been placed variably in the genera Dusicyon (Clutton-Brock, et al., 1976; Wozencraft, 1989), Canis (Langguth, 1975; Van Gelder, 1978), Pseudalopex (Berta, 1987; Wozencraft, 1993; Tedford et al., 1995), and Lycalopex (Zunino, 1995; Wozencraft, 2005).
This canid, like other South American foxes, is still sometimes classified as a member of the genus Pseudalopex. As Pseudalopex and Lycalopex have largely come to describe the same genus, either classification is acceptable, although modern practice is to give Lycalopex prominence.
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The Fuegian dog, also known as the Yaghan dog, or, in Spanish, as the perro Yaghan or perro Fueguino  is an extinct domesticated canid. It was domesticated from the culpeo, unlike other domestic canids, which are domesticated from the gray wolf.
Fuegian dogs may have evolved into the Falkland Islands wolf, when Yaghans travelled to the Falkland Islands with their dogs.  is an extinct domesticated canid. It was domesticated from the culpeo,However, it has been shown recently that the Falkland Islands wolf actually got to the Falklands via an ice bridge. There has been no evidence that the ancestors of the warrah have ever been domesticated, nor had there been evidence of pre-European discovery of the Falklands.
Despite the name, the Fuegian dog is not closely related to the true dog (Canis lupus familiaris). The Fuegian dog was domesticated by the native people of Tierra del Fuego (the Yaghan), thus having the names Fuegian dog and Yaghan dog.
Fuegian dogs had erect ears, sharp snout and a thick tail, the colour was tawny, but can also be entirely white. Gauchos called Fuegian dogs "maned dogs" because of their resemblance to the maned wolf. Lucas Bridges described the Fuegian dog as "a stunted cross between an Alsatian police dog and a wolf". 
Although the Fuegian dog's distribution corresponded with that of the Yaghan people, it was not really loyal to its owners. Julius Popper pointed out the canid's lack of loyalty: "I never saw them, no matter how large their number, take an aggressive attitude or defend their masters when these were in danger". 
Despite their large size of 35kg, (77lbs.) the Fuegian dogs were useless to hunt guanaco. However, they might have been useful in hunting otters. Other useful things the dogs done was that they gathered around their owners to keep them warm. This was noted by Julius Popper:"the dogs placed themselves in a group around the small Onas, taking the shape of a kind of wrapping […] my opinion is that the Fuegian dogs are only useful to complete the defective garment of the Indian, or better, as the Ona’s heating furniture".
In the year 1919, when Salesian father Gusinde visited the Yaghans, he noticed their dogs were gone. The Fuegian dogs were exterminated because they "were dangerous to men and cattle”. Their fierce nature was also noted by Reverend Thomas Bridges in the 1880s, who wrote that they attacked his Mission’s goats.
- "About Perro Yaghan".
- "Patagonian Monsters:Fuegian dog".
- "Messybeast:Rare and Extinct Creatures: the Warrah (Falkland Islands Wolf)".
- "Patagonian Monsters:Fuegian dog".
- "Fuegian dog facts".
- Bridges, L., (2008). Op. Cit. pp.97
- Popper, J., (1887). Expedición Popper. [Conferencia]. Instituto Geográfico Militar. 05.03.1887. Museo del Fin del Mundo, Biblioteca Virtual
- Martial, L., (2005). Mision al Cabo de Hornos, la expedición científica francesa en la Romanche Julio de 1882 a setiembre de 1883. Ushuaia: Zaguier & Urruty Publications . pp. 225
- Orquera, L. and Piana, E. (1999). La vida material y social de los Yámana. B. Aires: EUDEBA. pp 178-180