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The maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) is the largest canid of South America.[4] Its markings resemble those of foxes, but it is neither a fox nor a wolf. It is the only species in the genus Chrysocyon (meaning "golden dog").

Maned wolf [1]
Temporal range: 0.1–0 Ma
Late Pleistocene – Recent
Maned wolf in Cologne Zoo, Germany
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Subfamily: Caninae
Tribe: Canini
Genus: Chrysocyon
Smith, 1839
C. brachyurus
Binomial name
Chrysocyon brachyurus
(Illiger, 1815)
Maned Wolf area.png
Range of the maned wolf

Canis brachyurus, C. campestris, C. isodactylus, C. jubatus, Vulpes cancrosa

It is the largest canid in South America, with a weight between 20 and 30 kg, and reaches up to 90 cm at the withers. Its long, thin legs and dense reddish coat give it an unmistakable appearance. The maned wolf is a crepuscular and omnivorous animal adapted to the open environments of the South American savanna, with an important role in the seed dispersal of fruits, especially the wolf apple (Solanum lycocarpum). The maned wolf is a solitary animal. It communicates primarily by scent marking, but also gives a loud call known as "roar-barking".

This mammal is found in open and semiopen habitats, especially grasslands with scattered bushes and trees, in the Cerrado of south, central-west, and southeastern Brazil; Paraguay; northern Argentina; and Bolivia east and north of the Andes,[5] and far southeastern Peru (Pampas del Heath only).[6] It is very rare in Uruguay, possibly being displaced completely through loss of habitat.[2] The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists it as near threatened,[2] while it is considered a vulnerable species by the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources.

It is known locally as aguará guazú (meaning "large fox" in the Guarani language), or kalak in the Toba Qom language, lobo de crin, lobo de los esteros, or lobo colorado, and lobo-guará in Brazil. It also is called borochi in Bolivia.


Although the maned wolf displays many fox-like characteristics, it is not closely related to foxes. It lacks the elliptical pupils found distinctively in foxes. The maned wolf's evolutionary relationship to the other members of the canid family makes it a unique animal.

Electrophoretic studies did not link Chrysocyon with any of the other living canids studied. One conclusion of this study is that the maned wolf is the only species among the large South American canids that survived the late Pleistocene extinction. Fossils of the maned wolf from the Holocene and the late Pleistocene have been excavated from the Brazilian Highlands.[7]

A 2003 study on the brain anatomy of several canids placed the maned wolf together with the Falkland Islands wolf and with pseudo-foxes of the genus Pseudalopex.[8] One study based on DNA evidence showed that the extinct genus Dusicyon, comprising the Falkland Islands wolf and its mainland relative, was the most closely related species to the maned wolf in historical times, and that about seven million years ago it shared a common ancestor with that genus.[9] A 2015 study reported genetic signatures in maned wolves that are indicative of population expansion followed by contraction that took place during Pleistocene interglaciations about 24,000 years before present.[10]

The maned wolf is not closely related to any other living canid. It is not a fox, wolf, coyote, dog, or jackal, but a distinct canid, though, based only on morphological similarities, it previously had been placed in the Canis and Vulpes genera.[3] Its closest living relative is the bush dog (genus Speothos), and it has a more distant relationship to other South American canines (the short-eared dog, the crab-eating fox, and the zorros or Lycalopex).[11]


Speothos venaticus (bush dog)  

Chrysocyon brachyurus (maned wolf)  [11](Fig. 10)

Dusicyon australis (Falkland Islands wolf) 


Lycalopex vetulus (hoary fox)  

Lycalopex fulvipes (Darwin's fox)  

Lycalopex griseus (South American gray fox or chilla)  

Lycalopex gymnocercus (pampas fox)  

Lycalopex culpaeus (culpeo or Andean fox)  

Lycalopex sechurae (Sechuran fox or Peruvian desert fox)

Cerdocyon thous (crab-eating fox)  

Atelocynus microtis (short-eared dog)  


Video of captive maned wolves at Ueno Zoo, in Japan
Drawing of the skull of a maned wolf
Skull of a maned wolf

The maned wolf bears minor similarities to the red fox, although it belongs to a different genus. The average adult weighs 23 kg (51 lb) and stands 90 cm (35 in) tall at the shoulder, has a head-body length of 100 cm (39 in) with the tail adding another 45 cm (18 in).[12] Its ears are large and long (7 inches).[13]

The maned wolf is the tallest of the wild canids; its long legs are likely an adaptation to the tall grasslands of its native habitat.[14] Fur of the maned wolf may be reddish-brown to golden orange on the sides with long, black legs, and a distinctive black mane. The coat is marked further with a whitish tuft at the tip of the tail and a white "bib" beneath the throat. The mane is erectile and typically is used to enlarge the wolf's profile when threatened or when displaying aggression. Melanistic maned wolves do exist, but are rare. The first photograph of a black adult maned wolf was taken by a camera trap in northern Minas Gerais in Brazil in 2013.[15][16][17]

The skull can be identified by its reduced carnassials, small upper incisors and long canine teeth.[12] Like other canids, it has 42 teeth with the dental formula × 2 = 42. The maned wolf’s rhinarium extends to the upper lip, similar to the bush dog, but its vibrissae are longer.[12] The skull also features a prominent sagittal crest.

The maned wolf's footprints are similar to those of the dog, but have disproportionately small plantar pads when compared to the well-opened digit marks.[18][19] The dog has pads up to 3 times larger than the maned wolf's footprint.[20] These pillows have a triangular shape.[20] The front footprints are 7 to 9 cm long and 5.5 to 7 cm wide, and those of the hind feet are 6.5 to 9 cm long and 6.5 to 8.5 cm wide.[20] One feature that differentiates the maned wolf's footprint from that of other South American canids is the proximal union of the third and fourth digits.[12]

Genetically, the maned wolf has 38 chromosomes, with a karyotype similar to that of other canids.[12] Evidence suggests that 15,000 years ago, the species suffered a reduction in its genetic diversity, called the bottleneck effect. However, its diversity is still greater than that of other canids.[21]

The maned wolf also is known for the distinctive odor of its territory markings, which has earned it the nickname "skunk wolf".

Ecology and behaviorEdit

Hunting and territorialityEdit

Unlike most wild canids (such as the gray wolf, the African hunting dog, or the dhole), the maned wolf is a solitary animal and does not form packs.[12] It typically hunts alone, usually between sundown and midnight, rotating its large ears to listen for prey animals in the grass. They tap the ground with a front foot to flush out the prey and pounce to catch it.[13] They kill prey by biting on the neck or back, and shaking the prey violently if necessary.[22] Monogamous pairs may defend a shared territory around 30 km2 (12 sq mi), although outside of mating, the individuals may meet only rarely. The territory is crisscrossed by paths that they create as they patrol at night. Several adults may congregate in the presence of a plentiful food source, for example, a fire-cleared patch of grassland that would leave small vertebrate prey exposed while foraging.

Both female and male maned wolves use their urine to communicate, e.g. to mark their hunting paths or the places where they have buried hunted prey.[22] The urine has a very distinctive odor, which some people liken to hops or cannabis. The responsible substance very likely is a pyrazine, which also occurs in both plants.[23] (At the Rotterdam Zoo, this smell once set the police on a hunt for cannabis smokers.[23][24]) The preferred habitat of the maned wolf includes grasslands, scrub prairies, and forests.

Reproduction and life cycleEdit

A maned wolf and pup at White Oak Conservation

Their mating season ranges from November to April. Gestation lasts 60 to 65 days and a litter may have from two to six black-furred pups, each weighing roughly 450 g (16 oz). Pups are fully grown when one year old. During that first year, the pups rely on their parents for food.[22]

Data on the maned wolf's estrus and reproductive cycle mainly comes from captive animals, particularly about breeding endocrinology.[25] However, studies have found that hormonal changes of maned wolves in the wild follow the same variation pattern of those in captivity.[25] Females ovulate spontaneously, but some authors suggest that the presence of a male is important for estrus induction.[25]

Captive animals in the Northern Hemisphere breed between October and February and in the Southern Hemisphere between August and October. This indicates that photoperiod plays an important role in maned wolf reproduction, mainly due to the production of semen.[12][25] Generally, one estrus occurs per year.[12] The amount of sperm produced by the maned wolf is lower compared to that of other canids.[25]

Copulation occurs during the 4-day estrus period and is followed by up to 15 minutes of sexual intercourse.[12] Courtship is similar to that of other canids, characterized by frequent approaches and anogenital investigation.[6]

Gestation lasts 60 to 65 days and a litter may have from two to six pups. One litter of seven has been recorded.[12] Birthing has been observed in May in the Canastra Mountains, but data from captive animals suggest that births are concentrated between June and September.[21] The maned wolf reproduces with difficulty in the wild, with a high rate of infant mortality. Females can go up to two years without breeding.[25] Breeding in captivity is even more difficult, especially in temperate parts of the Northern Hemisphere.[25]

Pups are born weighing between 340 and 430 grams. They begin their lives with black fur, becoming red after ten weeks.[12] The eyes open at about 9 days of age.[12] They are breastfed up to 4 months. Afterwards, they are fed by their parents via regurgitation, starting on the 3rd week of age and lasting up to 10 months.[26][6] Three-month-old pups begin to accompany their mother while she forages. [26] Males and females both engage in parental care, but it is primarily done by the females.[26] Data on male parental care has been collected from captive animals and little is known whether this occurs frequently the wild. [6] Maned wolves reach sexual maturity at 1 year of age, when they leave their birth territory. [6]

The maned wolf’s longevity in the wild is unknown, but estimates in captivity are between 12 and 15 years. [12] There is a report of an individual at the Sao Paulo Zoo who lived to be 22 years old. [21]


Fruit of the wolf apple, one of the main plant foods of the maned wolf

The maned wolf is omnivorous. It specialises in preying on small and medium-sized animals, including small mammals (typically rodents and rabbits), birds, and even fish,[27][22] but a large portion of its diet (more than 50%, according to some studies) is vegetable matter, including sugarcane, tubers, and fruit.[28] Up to 301 food items have been recorded in the maned wolf’s diet, including 116 plants and 178 animal species.[25]

The maned wolf hunts by chasing its prey, digging holes, and jumping to catch birds in flight. About 21% of hunts are successful.[6] Some authors have recorded active pursuits of the Pampas deer.[26] They were also observed feeding on carcasses of run down animals.[6] Fecal analysis has shown consumption of the giant anteater, bush dog, and collared peccary, but it is not known whether these animals are actively hunted or scavenged.[21][26] Armadillos are also commonly consumed.[25] Animals are more often consumed in the dry season.[12][28]

The wolf apple (Solanum lycocarpum), a tomato-like fruit, is the maned wolf’s most common food item. With some exceptions, these fruits make up between 40 and 90% of the maned wolf's diet.[12][26][28] [29] The wolf apple is actively sought by the maned wolf, and is consumed throughout the year, unlike other fruits that can only be eaten in abundance during the rainy season.[26][28] It can consume several fruits at a time and disperse intact seeds by defecating, making it an excellent disperser of the wolf apple plant.[26]

Despite their preferred habitat, maned wolves are ecologically flexible and can survive in disturbed habitats, from burned areas to places with high human influences. Burned areas have some small mammals, such as hairy-tailed bolo mouse (Necromys lasiurus) and vesper mouse (Calomys spp.) that they can hunt and survive on.[30]

Historically, captive maned wolves were fed meat-heavy diets, but that caused them to develop bladder stones. Zoo diets for them now feature fruits and vegetables, as well as meat and specialized extruded diet formulated for maned wolves to be low in stone-causing compounds (i.e. cystine).

Relations with other speciesEdit

The maned wolf participates in symbiotic relationships. It contributes to the propagation and dissemination of the plants on which it feeds, through excretion. Often, maned wolves defecate on the nests of leafcutter ants. The ants then use the dung to fertilize their fungus gardens, but they discard the seeds contained in the dung onto refuse piles just outside their nests. This process significantly increases the germination rate of the seeds.[31]

The maned wolf is not a common prey species for any predator, although it may be attacked or killed by feral dogs. An additional threat to the maned wolf exists from sharing territory with domestic dogs. The maned wolf is particularly susceptible to infection by the giant kidney worm, a potentially fatal parasite that also may infect domestic dogs.

Relations with humansEdit

Generally, the maned wolf is shy and flees when alarmed, so it poses little direct threat to humans. Popularly, the maned wolf is thought to have the potential of being a chicken thief. It once was considered a similar threat to cattle and sheep, although this now is known to be false.

Historically, in a few parts of Brazil, these animals were hunted for some body parts, notably the eyes, that were believed to be good-luck charms. Since its classification as a vulnerable species by the Brazilian government, it has received greater consideration and protection.

They are threatened by habitat loss and being run over by automobiles. Feral and domestic dogs pass on diseases to them, and have been known to attack them.

The species occurs in several protected areas, including the national parks of Caraça and Emas in Brazil. The maned wolf is well represented in captivity and has been bred successfully at many zoos,[32] particularly in Argentina, North America (part of a Species Survival Plan) and Europe (part of a European Endangered Species Programme). In 2012, a total of 3,288 maned wolves were kept at more than 300 institutions worldwide.[33] The Smithsonian National Zoo Park has been working to protect maned wolves for nearly 30 years, and coordinates the collaborative, interzoo maned wolf Species Survival Plan of North America, which includes breeding maned wolves, studying them in the wild, protecting their habitat, and educating people about them.[13]



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External linksEdit

  Media related to Chrysocyon brachyurus at Wikimedia Commons