Meet the Maned Wolf

Captive maned wolf, Creative Commons license
Captive maned wolf, Creative Commons license

By Matthew Hardcastle
BU News Service

The maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) is often described as a red fox on stilts, but it is neither a wolf nor a fox. It is part of a distinct lineage of South American canids, many of whom also bare misleading common names like the bush dog and crab-eating fox. Maned wolves can be found in the grasslands of southern Brazil and neighboring countries.

Captive wolf and pup, Creative Commons license
Captive wolf and pup, Creative Commons license

Unlike more familiar canids, maned wolves do not form packs and are instead largely solitary. They also have an omnivorous diet, feeding on small game as well as fruits and vegetables. As a plant-eater, the maned wolf enters into a strange symbiotic relationship with leafcutter ants.

First the maned wolf eats the fruits of the Loberia plant. Then it likes to deposit its pungent feces (it also goes by the name “skunk wolf”) onto elevated ground to mark out its territory, so the mounds of leafcutter ant nests make good targets. The leafcutter ants don’t mind having their home defecated on because they use the feces to fertilize their underground fungus gardens. Meanwhile, the undigested seeds of the Loberia plant get discarded by the ants, increasing their dispersal rates. It’s a win for wolf, ant, and plant.

The maned wolf is listed as near threatened by the IUCN and the Brazilian government considers it vulnerable. Populations have dropped in some areas due to habitat loss and culling by farmers who falsely considered them a threat to sheep and cattle. Though maned wolves are occasional chicken thieves, they are too shy to bother humans or large livestock. Some of the maned wolf’s body parts, like their eyes, are also sought after for their purported magical properties.

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