Galictis cuja is found across central and southern South America. It has been encountered from southern Peru, throughout Paraguay, and from central Chile extending south to Argentina's Chubut Province.
Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )
- Redford, K., J. Eisenberg. 1992. Mammals of the Neotropics. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.
Like most other mustelids, G. cuja has a long body with stout legs. It is similar in apearance to its larger cousin G. vittata which inhabits northern latitudes and lower altitudes. In comparison to the genus Mustela, G. cuja is more robust and heavier bodied.
Galictis cuja is characterized by black coloration begining from the rostrum and extending below the ears and into the chest and underbelly. The diagnostic white "headband" sweeps across the forehead, terminating around the shoulder region. Dorsal coloration is grizzled with yellowish undertones. Color variation and patterning may vary among individuals throughout the geographic range of the species.
The head and body length of this species is reportedly between 280 and 508 mm, with the tail adding an additional 120 to 193 mm to the total length. These animals weigh between 1 and 2.5 kg.
Sexual dimorphism is evident among many smaller mustelid species. Larger males maximize their ability to take larger prey, thereby limiting competion with females. Polygyny is correlated with such size dimorphism. Along with large size comes increased breeding fitness and superior fighting ability in competition among other males for females. Sexual dimorphism is suggested in G. cuja, but has not been substantiated.
Dental Formula: 3/3,1/1,3/4,1/1=34
Range mass: 1 to 2.5 kg.
Range length: 280 to 508 mm.
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
- Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Habitat and Ecology
The diet consists primarily on small and medium-sized vertebrates, including rodents, lagomorphs, birds, frogs, lizards snakes and eggs (Jimenez, 1996; Mann, 1945; Quintana et al. 2000).
Lesser grisons occupy a wide range of habitats, and can be found in the extremes of the arid Chaco while also inhabiting environments with extensive vegetation cover in conjuction with open water. Other habitat types include deciduous and evergreen forests, savananas and mountainous regions. Elevations above 4000 meters are not occupied.
Lesser grisons often frequent rock pilings, hollow trees, and borrows of other animals in search of food or refuge.
Range elevation: 0 to 4000 m.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; savanna or grassland ; chaparral ; forest ; scrub forest ; mountains
- Mares, M., R. Ojeda, R. Barquez. 1989. Guide to the Mammals of Salta Province, Argentina. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
The diet of G. cuja consists of small mammals, birds, eggs, cold-blooded vertebrates, and invertebrates as well as fruit. The stomach contents of one speciemen collected in Peru contained mice and a lizard.
Athough percieved to be a generalist, studies have shown that the consumtion of introduced European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is high among populations of G. cuja where rabbit populations are high.
We may assume that these animals are capable of hunting chincillas, as they are sometimes kept in captivity for this purpose.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; amphibians; reptiles; eggs; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods
Plant Foods: fruit
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)
- Duik-Wasser, M., M. Cassini. 1998. A study on the diet of minor grisons and a preliminary analysis of their role in the control of rabbits in Patagonia. Studies on Neotropical Fauna and the Environment, 33(1): 3-6.
Lesser grisons feed on a variety of small mammals and other vertebrates. They therefore have a negative impact on populations of their prey species.
The predators of these animals have not been reported.
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Life History and Behavior
Communication and Perception
Galictis cuja utilizes a range of vocalizations which include a sharp, growling bark when threatened. It is likely that these vocalizations are also used for communication within the species. As with other mammals, tactile communiction plays an important role between mates, rival, and between mothers and their offspring. Because these animals are active during the day and are social, they probably use some visual signals, such as body posture, to communicate intentions to conspecific. Scent cues are usually important in Mustelids, which have well developed anal scent glands.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: scent marks
Perception Channels: visual ; acoustic
Greater grisons (G. vittata) have lived more than 10 years in captivity. Longevity in lesser grisons is unknown.
Status: captivity: 10.2 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
While mating habits of G. cuja are not documented, many male mustelids are polygynous. Females can be brought to ovulate only by freguent and rigorous copulation. Delayed implantation is also evident in more thatn 16 mustelid species but has not been recorded in G. cuja.
Gestation in G. cuja is complete after about 40 days, when 2 to 4 offspring are produced. Young are born in March, August, October and September.
Breeding interval: The breeding interval of these animals is not reported.
Breeding season: The breeding season of these animals in the wild is not reported.
Range number of offspring: 2 to 4.
Range gestation period: 39 to 40 days.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization ; viviparous
The parental behavor of this species has not been reported. As in all mammals, the female provides her young with food and protection. Most mustelids are altricial, and it is likely that lesser grison are similar. The young are probably born in a burrow or den of some sort, although this has not been documented. The role of males in parental care has not been established.
Parental Investment: no parental involvement; altricial ; pre-fertilization (Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)
- Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
- King, C., D. Macdonald. 1999. Weasels and Polecats. Pp. 110-115 in The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford: Andromeda.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Galictis cuja
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 6
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Lesser grisons are listed by CITES as Appendix III. They have no special conservation status with IUCN Redlist or with the US Department of Fish and Wildlife.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: appendix iii
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Economic Importance for Humans: Negative
There are no reported negative effects of this species on humans.
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
A study of functional response among lesser grisons toward high populations of exotic European rabbits in Patagonia may confirm G. cuja as effective rabbit control. Young grison are also tamed easily and have been used in the past to capture chinchillas.
Positive Impacts: controls pest population
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Lesser grisons have a long, slender body, short legs, and a bushy tail. They have a long neck and a small head with a flattened forehead and rounded ears. They are smaller than the closely related greater grison, with a head-body length of 27 to 52 cm (11 to 20 in) and a tail 14 to 19 cm (5.5 to 7.5 in) long. Adults weigh anything from 1.2 to 2.4 kg (2.6 to 5.3 lb). Females are slighter smaller and more slender than males.
The top of the head, the back and flanks, and the tail have coarse black guard hairs with buff-coloured tips over a softer undercoat, giving them a grizzled greyish colour. The remainder of the body is black or nearly so, apart from a pale buff-coloured stripe running from the forehead to the shoulders along the lower margin of the grey furred area. The feet are webbed, with five toes ending in sharp, curved, claws.
Distribution and habitat
Lesser grisons are found throughout most of southern South America from sea level to as high as 4,200 metres (13,800 ft) elevation. They are found in a wide range of habitats, although generally near water, including grasslands, forests, scrub, and mountain meadows. They are also known to inhabit agricultural land and pasture in some areas.
Four subspecies are recognised:
- Galictis cuja cuja – southwestern Bolivia, western Argentina, central Chile
- Galictis cuja furax – southern Brazil, northeastern Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay
- Galictis cuja huronax – south-central Bolivia, eastern Argentina
- Galictis cuja luteola – extreme southern Peru, western Bolivia
Biology and behaviour
Lesser grisons are carnivorous, feeding on small to medium rodents, as well as rabbits, birds, frogs, lizards, and snakes. They are among the major predators on cavies, including wild guinea pigs, and also of nesting grebes.
They are semi-plantigrade, walking partly on the soles of their feet, and, despite the webbing, their feet are adapted more for running and climbing than for swimming. They possess anal scent glands that spray a noxious chemical similar to, but probably weaker than, that of skunks. They are monogamous, hunting together when raising their litters of two to five young.
Lesser grisons hunt primarily during the day, locating their prey at least partly by scent. They are either solitary, or live in small family groups of parents and offspring, which travel together in single file. They are said to be particularly fierce, and to play with their food for up to 45 minutes before eating it. During the night, they sleep in hollow trees or natural crevices, or else in excavated burrows. Burrows may be as deep as 4 m (13 ft), and have entrances obscured by leaves.
Relations with humans
Lesser grisons can be tamed if raised from a young age. They were used in the past to hunt wild chinchillas, pursuing them down burrows in a similar manner to ferrets, although chinchillas are now too rare for this to be viable. They are still sometimes kept to control rodents on farms, although they may also be hunted, especially where they are thought to prey on domestic poultry. They have also been reported to be amongst the most frequent species among mammalian roadkill in Brazil.
The bodies of lesser grisons have also been used as magical charms in Bolivia, where their pelts are stuffed with wool and decorated with ribbons and paper to be used in ritual offerings to Pachamama. One apparent sacrificial burial from Argentina has been dated to 1,420 BP. It was interred together with human remains, wearing a decorated collar, placed on an animal pelt and associated with numerous other funerary goods and bodies of mice.
- Reid, F. & Helgen, K. (2008). Galictis cuja. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
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- Burger, J. (1984). "Grebes nesting in gull colonies: protective associations and early warning". American Naturalist 123 (3): 327–337. doi:10.1086/284207.
- Jiménez, J.E. (1996). "The extirpation and current status of wild chinchillas Chinchilla lanigera and C. brevicaudata". Biological Conservation 77 (1): 1–6. doi:10.1016/0006-3207(95)00116-6.
- Brooks, D. (1991). "Some notes on terrestrial mustelids in the central Paraguayan Chaco". Mustelid and Viverrid Conservation 4: 5–6.
- Wisniveski-Colli, C., et al. (1992). "Sylvatic American trypanosomiasis in Argentina. Trypanosoma cruzi infection in mammals from the Chaco forest in Santiago del Estero". Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 86 (1): 38–41. doi:10.1016/0035-9203(92)90433-D.