Lycalopex culpaeusculpeo

Geographic Range

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. (Novaro, 1997; Salvatori, et al., 1999)

Habitat

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. (Jimenez and Novaro, 2004; Novaro, 1997; Walker, et al., 2007)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 4500 m
    0.00 to 14763.78 ft

Physical Description

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. (Jimenez and Novaro, 2004; Novaro, et al., 2009; Novaro, 1997)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    3.4 to 14 kg
    7.49 to 30.84 lb
  • Range length
    445 to 925 mm
    17.52 to 36.42 in

Reproduction

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. (Jimenez, 2006; Nowak, 1999)

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. (Jimenez and Novaro, 2004; Novaro, 1997; Nowak, 1999)

  • 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

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. (Novaro, 1997)

  • 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

Lifespan/Longevity

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. (Jimenez and Novaro, 2004)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    11 (high) years

Behavior

Lycalopex culpaeus is a solitary species outside of the breeding season, when mated pairs and their young associate. Culpeos in Patagonia have been seen moving about 7 km and culpeos in the deserts of northern Chile have been recorded moving 21 km Activity patterns vary geographically; culpeos appear to be nocturnal in Argentina, highland Peru, the Chilean desert and Magallanes, but in central Chile they are diurnal or crepuscular. Culpeos are cursorial and terrestrial. From summer to autumn they are at their highest activity level. (Jimenez and Novaro, 2004; Novaro, et al., 2009; Novaro, 1997; Salvatori, et al., 1999)

  • Range territory size
    3.7 to 800 km^2

Home Range

Culpeos occupy home ranges with little or no overlap. Home range size is extremely variable. Chilean culpeos in a semi-arid region had an average home range size of 3.7 km2, while desert dwelling culpeos in highland salt flats and lakes had home ranges of up to 800 km2. In north central Chile, the home range of female culpeos averaged 8.9 km2, 2.5 times the size of the average male home range. In southern Chile, the average annual home range was 9.8 km2, with no significant difference between sexes. Home range size appears to depend on habitat and prey availability. (Jimenez and Novaro, 2004; Novaro, 1997; Salvatori, et al., 1999)

Communication and Perception

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. (Novaro, 1997)

Food Habits

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. (Jimenez and Novaro, 2004; Novaro, 1997; Walker, et al., 2007)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • reptiles
  • carrion
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit

Predation

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. (Jimenez and Novaro, 2004)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

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. (Jimenez and Novaro, 2004; Novaro, 1997; Walker, et al., 2007)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

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. (Jimenez and Novaro, 2004)

  • Positive Impacts
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Culpeos occasionally feed on livestock, such as sheep and chickens, and are said to be a major cause of sheep predation in Patagonia. (Travaini, et al., 2001)

Conservation Status

Lycalopex culpaeus appears to be able to withstand human hunting pressure and is maintaining a stable population. (Novaro, et al., 2009)

Other Comments

Lycalopex culpaeus were previously known as Pseudalopex culpaeus. (Jimenez and Novaro, 2004)

Contributors

Lisa Peterson (author), Michigan State University, Barbara Lundrigan (editor), Michigan State University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

biodegradation

helps break down and decompose dead plants and/or animals

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

carrion

flesh of dead animals.

chaparral

Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

omnivore

an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5? N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

Jimenez, J. 2006. Ecology of a coastal population of the critically endangered Darwin's fox (Pseudalopex fulvipes) on Chiloé Island, southern Chile. Journal of Zoology, 271: 63-77.

Jimenez, J., A. Novaro. 2004. Culpeo. Pp. 44-49 in C Sillero-Zubiri, M Hoffmann, D Macdonald, eds. Canids: Foxes, Wolves, Jackals, and Dogs. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK: World Conservation Union.

Novaro, A. 1997. Pseudalopex culpaeus. Mammalian Species, 558: 1-8.

Novaro, A., C. Moraga, C. Briceno, M. Funes, A. Marino. 2009. First records of culpeo (Lycalopex culpaeus) attacks and cooperative defense by guanacos (Lama guanicoe). Mammalia, 73: 148-150.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Salvatori, V., G. Vaglio-Laurin, P. Meserve, L. Boitani, A. Campanella. 1999. Spatial organization, activity, and social interactions of culpeo foxes (Pseudalopex culpaeus) in north-central Chile. Journal of Mammalogy, 80: 980-985.

Travaini, A., R. Peck, S. Zapata. 2001. Selection of odor attractants and meat delivery methods to control Culpeo foxes (Pseudalopex culpaeus) in Patagonia. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 29: 1089-1096.

Walker, R., A. Novaro, P. Perovic, R. Palacios, E. Donadio, M. Lucherini, M. Pia, M. Lopez. 2007. Diets of three species of Andean carnivores in high-altitude deserts of Argentina. Journal of Mammalogy, 88: 519-525.