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Darwin's Fox

'''Darwin's Foxor Darwin's Zorro'(Lycalopex fulvipes) is a small Critically endangered canine from the genus Lycalopex''. It is also known as the Zorro Chilote or Zorro de Darwin in Spanish and lives on Chiloe Island and Nahuelbuta National Park in mainland Chile (Araucania Region).

Darwin's Fox was first collected from San Pedro Island off the coast of Chile by the naturalist Charles Darwin in 1834. It was long held that Darwin's Fox was a subspecies of the South American Gray Fox (L. griseus); however, the discovery of a small population of Darwin's Fox on the mainland in Nahuelbuta National Park in 1990Medel, R.G. et al. 1990. Discovery of a continental population of the rare Darwin Fox, Dusicyon fulvipes in Chile. Biological Conservation 51:71-77 and subsequent genetic analysis has clarified the fox's status as a unique species.Yahnke, C.J. et al. 1996. Darwin's Fox: A Distinct Endangered Species in a Vanishing Habitat. Conservation Biology 10:366-375

Taxonomy and evolution

Pseudalopex 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 Chiloe Archipelago during the voyage of the Beagle, he observed 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 (Pseudalopex 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 the present restricted range is a relict 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, Chiloe 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.Villagran, C. 1988. Late Quaternary vegetation of Southern Isla Grande de Chiloe, Chile. Quaternary Research 29: 294306 This created two isolated populations of Darwin's Fox.

Physical description

Darwin's Fox has a dark brown coat with red areas on its head and face, and it has shorter legs than the mainland foxes, and weighs 24 kg, much smaller than the L. griseus which weighs between 510 kg. The coat of the Darwin's Fox is dark grey-violet with red areas on it ears, head, and limbs. Their dewlap and underbelly is mainly white, and thorax is sometimes locally cover of white coating.


Darwin's Fox has a vast diet. In dense forests, where it exists, the foxes hunt for mammals, reptiles, beetles, and invertebrates. Sometimes it selects fruits and berries. Birds and amphibians to a lesser degree are also consumed.


Darwin's fox is generally believed to be a forest obligate species found only in southern temperate rainforests. They only occur in forested areas on Chiloe and on the mainland. They are most active at twilight and before sunrise. Darwin's fox generally only occur in the southern primary temperate subtropical forests. The population of Chiloe has about 200 individuals, and Nahuelbuta on the mainland contains about 50 individuals. The total population size is about 250 mature individuals with at least 90% of the population occurring in one subspopulation (Chiloe Island). Although the species is protected in Nahuelbuta National Park, substantial mortality sources exist when foxes move to lower, unprotected private areas in search of milder conditions during the winter.

Conservation status

It is believed that there are only 250 Darwin's foxes on Chiloe Island and up to 70 on the mainland, and they are listed as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union. Fragmentation of forest adjacent to the national park and on the island is a concern for their conservation, and feral dogs may pose the greatest threat to their survival by spreading disease or directly attacking. Persecution by people who think that the foxes attack domestic fowls is also a potential problem.

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Darwin's Fox

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