Tall and two-toned, this unusual canid stands out from the crowd, yet not a lot of people know about the maned wolf, a cousin of the more familiar gray wolf. Here are five facts about this South American predator that will spark a new fascination.
1. Maned wolves stand up to 3 feet tall
Their extraordinary legs are no optical illusion! The maned wolf stands up to 90 centimeters tall at the shoulder, making it the largest canid in South America. Though they only weigh about 50 pounds, their stature makes them an intimidating carnivore; in fact, few other species pose a threat to maned wolves. The extra long legs help them hunt in the tall grasses of their cerrado habitat, flushing out rabbits, rodents, birds and even armadillos and insects.
2. They love a good fruit bowl
Up to half the diet of the maned wolf is comprised of fruit and vegetables. According to Smithsonian National Zoo, they “are particularly interested in lobeira, whose name means ‘fruit of the wolf.'”
The name is particularly fitting, as the maned wolf has a mutually beneficial relationship with lobeira. According to Kaieteur News, “The maned wolf participates in symbiotic relationships with the plants that it feeds on, as it carries the seeds of various plants, and often defecates on the nests of leaf cutter ants. The ants then use the dung to fertilize their fungus gardens, and later discard the seeds onto refuse piles just outside their nest. This process significantly increases the germination rate of the seeds.”
3. Their pee smells like marijuana
Maned wolves have particularly pungent pee, so it makes sense that they use it to mark their territory. Interestingly enough, that scent is reminiscent of pot smoke. Mental Floss humorously notes:
“Maned wolf urine releases pyrazines, hexagon-shaped clusters of nitrogen, carbon, and hydrogen that create a powerful odor that smells a lot like marijuana smoke. A Dutch police department learned this fact by accident in 2006. That year, law enforcement officials were summoned to the Rotterdam Zoo in South Holland because guests believed there was a pot-smoker illegally lighting up at the facility. To the surprise of many, their culprit turned out to be a maned wolf who was simply marking its territory.”
4. They aren’t actually wolves
It may have coloring much like a red fox and have wolf in the name, but this canid is a distinct species. In fact, it’s the only member of its genus, Chrysocyon, which means “golden dog.” The closest relative of the maned wolf is the bush dog, though the short, stocky canid is the visual opposite of its cousin and is also the only living species in its own genus, Speothos. The bush dog also is found in Central and South America. All in all, the maned wolf stands alone.
5. They’re disappearing from the wild
Unfortunately, this leggy looker is classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.
According to ARKive, “The most significant threat to the survival of remaining maned wolf populations is habitat loss. The conversion of land to agriculture has drastically reduced the available habitat for the maned wolf, with the cerrado of Brazil being reduced to about 20 percent of its original extent. In addition, maned wolves are often killed on highways, frequently on those which border protected areas. Indeed, road kills are responsible for the death of approximately half the annual production of pups in some reserves. Domestic dogs also pose a threat by transferring diseases, competing for food, and even killing the maned wolf.”