Darwin’s fox

Lycalopex fulvipes

Last updated: March 23, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Parque Tepuhueico / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License / Original

It’s not a “true fox.”


Darwin’s fox Scientific Classification

Scientific Name
Lycalopex fulvipes

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Darwin’s fox Conservation Status

Darwin’s fox Locations

Darwin’s fox Locations

Darwin’s fox Facts

Small mammals, reptiles, insects and other invertebrates
Name Of Young
Pup, cub, kit
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
Fun Fact
It’s not a “true fox.”
Estimated Population Size
639 adults, conservation status endangered
Biggest Threat
Habitat fragmentation, feral and domesticated dogs
Most Distinctive Feature
Its small size
Other Name(s)
Darwin's zorro, zorro chilote, zorro de Darwin
Gestation Period
Perhaps two months
Litter Size
Two to three
Temperate rainforests, shrubland
Number Of Species

Darwin’s fox Physical Characteristics

  • Grey
  • Red
  • Black
Skin Type
Top Speed
45 mph
Seven years
4 to 8.7 pounds
20.79 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
About one year
Age of Weaning
About two months

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“Darwin’s Fox is one of the world’s littlest foxes”

There are two populations of Darwin’s fox. The location of the first population is an island off the coast of Chile, and the other lives in a few locations on the mainland. The fox lives its rather secretive life in the temperate forests of these places. It is listed as endangered, but the good news is that there may be more of them than was first thought.

Five Incredible Darwin’s Fox Facts!

Read on for five facts about Darwin’s fox.

  • The fox gets its common name from naturalist Charles Darwin who first collected it in 1834.
  • The animals in the Lycalopex genus aren’t considered true foxes the way the red fox, Vulpes vulpes is a true fox. Lycalopex foxes are more closely related to jackals and wolves. They only look like foxes because of convergent evolution. This is where one type of animal comes to resemble an unrelated animal due to ecological pressures. However, wolves, true foxes and wolf-foxes, jackals and others all belong to the Canidae family.
  • One of the reasons Darwin’s fox is endangered is that it was hunted for its lustrous pelt. Conservation efforts have raised its numbers, but it is still in trouble.
  • The native name of Darwin’s fox is zorro chilote, which means “the fox from Chiloté Island” off the coast of Chile.
  • Another of the adaptations of Darwin’s fox is that males and females look alike and are the same size. The male’s muzzle may be a little wider because there’s more space between his upper canines.

Scientific Name

The scientific name of Darwin’s fox is Lycalopex fulvipes. Lycalopex is from the Greek words lýkos and alepoú and means “wolf-fox.” Fulvipes is from Latin and means “tawny-footed,” from fulvus, which means tawny and pēs, which means foot. Thus, the meaning of Darwin’s fox’s scientific name is “tawny-footed wolf-fox.”

Evolution And History

Endemic to Chile, Darwin’s Fox evolved from a single North American ancestor, about 3.9 million to 3.5 million years ago. These ancestors were able to make their way to South America after Panama emerged from the sea and after spreading to various ecological corners, further evolved over millions of years, unique to its habitat, to the fox that we have today.

Types Of

While the Darwin Fox is the only type of its kind, it is one of 10 different kinds of foxes found in South America, which are not true foxes but rather are fox-like. The other 9 species of South American foxes are:


Darwin's fox
Darwin’s fox has short legs, which makes its body look even longer than it is.

©Fernando Bórquez, uploaded by Lin linao / public domain – License

Lycalopex fulvipes, native name zorro chilote, is a small fox that’s about 21 inches long with a bushy, 9-inch long tail. It has short legs, which makes its body look even longer than it is. The shoulder height does not seem to have been measured. It is covered with soft black and gray fur with some red around the ears and lower legs. Its ears are large and triangular.


These little foxes are active both day and night unless it shares territory with the South American gray fox. If there are gray foxes in the area, Darwin’s fox hunts at night while the other fox sleeps. This may not be because the gray fox’s trophic level is higher, but because it is an efficient hunting strategy.

Outside of their breeding season, Darwin’s foxes are solitary and do not defend territories. When it comes to their own trophic level, they are probably apex predators where they live unless there are pumas and birds of prey in the area. Neither males nor females mind the presence of other foxes on their home ranges, and their grown children sometimes share a range with their parents. Scientists believe this may be one of the adaptations the fox has made to live on an island where not every individual can have an exclusive, defendable territory. Like other canids, Lycalopex fulvipes probably have a good repertoire of vocalizations and a well-developed sense of smell. Its senses of touch and hearing are probably keen as well.


The fox lives in the southern temperate forests found in Chile and the island off the coast of Chile, Chiloe. It is partial to second-growth forests.


Darwin’s fox is an omnivore, which is probably another of the evolutionary adaptations necessary for a creature that lives on an island. It not only eats smaller animals but fruits, nuts, and seeds. It also eats carrion.

Predators And Threats

Besides humans, who persecute the fox because they believe it is a killer of livestock, foxes are killed by pumas and birds of prey, whose trophic level is of a greater height than theirs. The fox is also vulnerable to Mycoplasma haemocanis, a type of anemia found in dogs. The fox can spread this disease to domesticated dogs and livestock even if it doesn’t appear to be sick.

Reproduction And Life Cycle

Pseudalopex fulvipes-primer plano

It is not known how these foxes mate but what is known is that they are monogamous.

©Fernando Bórquez Bórquez from Castro, Chile / CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons – License

Scientists do not know much about how this tiny fox goes about creating a family. It’s unknown how males and females court, but scientists do know that fox parents are monogamous, and both take care of their cubs. The breeding season starts in October and two or three cubs are seen venturing out of the den by December, so a pregnancy probably lasts about two months. The cubs are weaned by February. They share their parents’ home range until they can find their own territory. This can last even when the parents have a new litter of cubs, but scientists don’t believe that cubs from the first litter help raise their siblings.


As of 2021, the population of Darwin’s fox was about 639 adults, and its conservation status is endangered. Its numbers appear to be stable.

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Darwin’s fox FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are Darwin’s fox carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores?

These foxes have an omnivorous diet and will eat whatever their digestive systems can handle. This may be one of the adaptations to living in a small territory where being an obligate carnivore isn’t really feasible, especially if one has to share resources with other carnivores on one’s trophic level or higher.

Why is the Darwin's fox going extinct?

Hopefully, the fox isn’t inevitably going extinct, but it is endangered. Reasons include its habitat being converted to farmland. Both domestic and feral dogs either spread diseases to the foxes or attack them outright, and the foxes are shot because farmers believe they pose a threat to livestock. The Darwin’s fox is also unafraid of humans, which, by the way, is how the one Darwin collected ended up on display in the Zoological Society’s museum. The fox, with no fear of humans, was easy to dispatch with Darwin’s geological hammer.

Where do Darwin's foxes live?

These animals are found in forests on Chiloé Island, Oncol Park, the Valdivian Coastal Range, Alerce Costero National Park, and Nahuelbuta National Park. Because Chiloé Island was separated from mainland Chile about 15,000 years ago, there are two populations of Darwin’s foxes.

Why is it called Darwin's fox?

The animal is called Darwin’s fox because it was first collected by naturalist Charles Darwin in 1834. Its native name is zorro chilote.

How long is a Darwin's fox pregnant?

The female fox, called a vixen, is probably pregnant for about two months.

What does the Darwin's fox eat?

Lycalopex fulvipes is an opportunistic feeder, and its diet is made up of smaller mammals, rodents, insects, amphibians, birds, and crustaceans. It also eats fruit, nuts, and seeds to the point where it is a good disperser of seeds and supports the growth and renewal of the forest. The fox also scavenges if it finds a carcass.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.


  1. Kiddle, Available here: https://kids.kiddle.co/Fox
  2. bioGraphic, Available here: https://www.biographic.com/darwins-fox/
  3. Canid Specialist Group, Available here: https://www.canids.org/species/view/PREKHM366471
  4. BioMed Central, Available here: https://veterinaryresearch.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1297-9716-43-66
  5. IUCN Redlist, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/fr/species/41586/107263066

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