Opossum

Common Mouse Opossum

In spite of being a marsupial, the female common mouse opossum lacks any pouch, so instead her young simply cling on her teats at first.

Hiding away during the day, often in a hollow tree or an abandoned birds' nest, the common mouse opossum can climb well, emerging under cover of darkness. It is aided by the opposable thumb on its front paws, which helps the opossum grip branches easily when climbing. These marsupials are solitary by nature. They will use their flexible tail to carry leaves and vegetation when making a nest. The young are tiny at birth, weighing just 0.09 g (0.003 oz).

Distribution: Occurs in northern parts of South America, from Colombia and Venezuela east to Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana. Also present in Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Weight: About 38 g (1.33 oz).

Length: 25 - 36 cm (10 - 14 in) overall; tail is usually longer than the body.

Maturity: 3 months.

Gestation Period: 13 days.

Breeding: 5 - 10; weaning occurs at about 62 days.

Food: Lizards, fruit and raids birds' nests.

Lifespan: Up to 3 years.

Tail

The prehensile tail acts rather like a rope, helping the opossum to keep its balance.

Young

The young grip on to the mother's back.

Colouration

The underside of the body is whitish and the upperparts are greyish-beige.

Eyes

Large eyes indicate the crepuscular nature of this species, which becomes active at dusk.

Hanging on

The tail can support the opossum's weight if necessary.

NIGHT HUNTING

Hunting under cover of darkness allows mouse opossums to prey on various night-flying insects, such as moths.

 

Black-shouldered opossum

This opossum lives in the misty forests that grow along the Andes Mountains of South America. It is more arboreal than many of its relatives and rarely comes to the ground, since it mates, feeds and gives birth in the trees. Its eats mainly fruits, but relies on nectar in the dry season, when fruits are less common.

The black-shouldered opossum's tail is a little longer than the rest of its body. The two black lines on the upper body run from the forefeet and join together at the shoulders, then they divide again and run along either side of the back all the way to the hind feet.

Black-shouldered opossums are solitary, only coming into contact with other members of the species to breed. Mating takes place at all times of the year. As in other marsupial species, the mother lacks a uterus and cannot carry her young for long, so they are born in an underdeveloped state. The mother guides her young to the pouch by licking a path through the fur from the birth canal. Once in the pouch, the young remain attached to a teat for three or four months.

Distribution: Andes Mountains.

Habitat: Humid forest.

Food: Fruit and nectar.

Size: 25 - 30 cm (10 - 12 in); 2 - 5 kg (4.4 - 11 lb).

Maturity: Unknown.

Breeding: Several young in each litter.

Life span: Unknown.

Status: Common.

 

Red-legged Short-tailed Opossum

Size: 16 cm (6.25 in); 67 - 95 g (2.25 - 3.25 oz).

This species ranges from northern South America to Bolivia and southern Brazil, occupying forests and dense shrublands. Unusually for an American marsupial, its tail is non-prehensile and shorter than rest of its body. The red-legged short-tailed opossum is a solitary forager, being most active by day. It spends most of its time on the ground, although it will also hunt in trees. Cockroaches and grasshoppers are the opossum's favourite foods, supplemented by fruits and seeds.

 

Lutrine Opossum

The word lutrine in this species' common name means "like an otter", referring to the fact that this opossum is a regular swimmer and is often found near water. It is even at home in flooded forests. Not only is its behaviour lutrine, but it also has a body shape resembling that of a small carnivore, such as an otter or weasel.

Lutrine opossums are also known as thick-tailed opossums. They live in two populations. The larger group occurs in Bolivia, east of the Andes, and in Brazil. The smaller population is found in forests north of the Amazon Basin, from the Guianas to northern Colombia. Lutrine opossums also occur on the pampas of northern Argentina.

These hunting marsupials have small ears, a long, slender body, short, stout legs and a long, thick tail. The tail, which can measure about 30 cm (12 in) long, is not as prehensile as that of other opossums.

These animals are more social than other opossum species, although most live alone. They are active at night, when they climb or swim in search of food. Their varied diet is made up largely of small mammals, birds, fish and insects.

Distribution: Eastern Bolivia, southern Brazil and northern Argentina; also in Guyana, Venezuela and Colombia.

Habitat: Grassland and flooded woodland.

Food: Small mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, insects and aquatic invertebrates.

Size: 20 - 40 cm (8 - 15.5 in); 500 g - 1 kg (1.25 - 2.25 lb).

Maturity: Unknown.

Breeding: 2 litters of about 10 offspring produced in spring and summer.

Life span: 3 years.

Status: Common.

 

Mexican Mouse Opossum

Size: 24 - 43 cm (9.5 - 17 in); 20 - 140 g (0.7 - 5 oz).

These opossums are found in Central America. They live in dry monsoon forests, which receive most of their rain during a specific wet season. The opossums live in the lower branches of the trees and rarely venture down to the ground. This species is one of the few marsupials that does not have a pouch. Female marsupials lack a uterus where the embryos can develop. As a result, newborn marsupials are often very undeveloped, so they seek refuge in their mother's external pouch until they are more fully grown. However, mouse opossums are small enough to reach a relatively advanced stage of development before being born, after which they travel on their mother's back. As many as 13 young are born in each litter, although many of them die before reaching maturity.

 

Grey Slender Mouse Opossum

This is another marsupial species that lives in the forests that grow along Brazil’s Atlantic coast. It is also found on a few of the islands that exist along this stretch of coastline. The grey slender mouse opossum is most common in the damp forests of lowland areas, although it also occurs in the drier monsoon and gallery forests that grow further inland.

Grey slender mouse opossums feed almost exclusively on insects, especially beetles and grasshoppers. They are scansorial animals, which means that they are highly curious and will climb over all parts of their environment, exploring every nook and cranny for feeding opportunities.

These small opossums have a mouse-like body. In the more southerly parts of its range, the fur is considerably longer in winter than in summer. Males may be much larger than females.

The grey slender mouse opossum has a short life cycle. Breeding takes place between September and December, after which all the males die, so that none are left alive by February. The females give birth and then die themselves in May. The young are helpless at birth but develop rapidly. By August the young born that year have reached maturity, and are ready to mate in the forthcoming breeding season.

Distribution: Eastern Brazil.

Habitat: Humid forest.

Food: Insect.

Size: 24 - 43 cm (9.5 - 17 in); 20 - 140 g (0.75 - 5 oz).

Maturity: 6 months.

Breeding: Litters born from September to December.

Life span: 1 - 1.5 years.

Status: Unknown.

 

Southern Opossum

Size: 26 - 45 cm (10 - 17.5 in); 0.6 - 2.4 kg (1.25 - 5.25 lb).

The southern opossum is a close relative of the Virginia opossum of North America, but it is found further south, ranging from eastern Mexico to north-eastern Argentina. Like other opossums, it is a generalist feeder that occupies a variety of habitats. Southern opossums are typically forest-dwellers, but they also venture into cultivated areas such as coffee plantations. Southern opossums are often seen in urban and suburban areas, where they eat garbage.

 

Brown Four-eyed Opossum

These opossums are found in dense lowland forests, where they move between the branches and the forest floor. They also live in more open brushlands, including the Gran Chaco of Paraguay and Argentina. In this habitat they remain hidden in thick undergrowth.

The white spots over this opossum's eyes are the source of its unusual common name. The short, dense, silky fur is brown on the back and sides, with traces of black on the rump. The tail measures 19 - 39 cm (7.5 - 15.3 in). Females weigh about one-third less than males.

Brown four-eyed opossums are nocturnal. They always remain in their nests until after dark. The nests are round formations of leaves and twigs that are generally built among tree branches or under rocks and logs. These opossums appear to be very curious foragers. They do not occupy a distinct territory, but travel far and wide in search of food. Brown four-eyed opossums regularly move to new areas in search of better food supplies. Their diet is made up mainly of fruits. They are sometimes said to damage fruit crops.

Distribution: Nicaragua to eastern South America.

Habitat: Forest and brush.

Food: Primarily fruits, but also insects, amphibians, reptiles, molluscs, birds, eggs, and small mammals.

Size: 19 - 31 cm (7.5 - 12.25 in); 0.8 kg (1.75 lb).

Maturity: Unknown.

Breeding: Litters of up to 9 young; young are born at all times of year, and each female may produce several litters annually.

Life span: 3 years.

Status: Common.

 

Central American Woolly Opossum

Size: Length unknown; 200 - 400 g (7 - 14 oz).

With a range extending from central Mexico to western Colombia and northern Ecuador, this species occupies lowland rainforests and similar tropical forests that grow in upland areas. This is the largest of the woolly opossums, which are named after their long, dense fur. The long, prehensile tail has a naked tip to help grip branches. The opposable thumb, or hallux, on the paws is clawless to avoid damaging the foot pad. This species eats a range of foods, including seeds, fruits and insects.

 

White-eared Opossum

These highly adaptable marsupials live throughout South America east of the Andes, occupying all habitats that contain enough food. Although they avoid deserts and drier areas, they can survive in a range of temperatures and humidity, including in the mountains of Patagonia and on open areas such as pampas. However, white-eared opossums are most common in deciduous forest. They can survive such diverse habitats because they are generalist feeders. Their diet includes invertebrates, fruits, seeds and small mammals and reptiles. In some parts of their range, the opossums even eat highly venomous pit vipers.

Male white-eared opossums are larger than females. Their bodies are rat-like, although they are not related to these rodents. The females have a pouch on their underside, in which the young are carried.

White-eared opossums are nocturnal creatures, sleeping in tree hollows and other hidden spots by day, and foraging at night. They live alone and will not tolerate the presence of another opossum. Males are particularly aggressive, except towards females that are ready to mate. It is possible that individuals form alliances with each other and organize themselves into a loose hierarchy.

Distribution: South America.

Habitat: Most habitats.

Food: Invertebrates, fruits and seeds.

Size: 30 - 50 cm (12 - 20 in); 0.4 - 1.3 kg (1 - 2.75 lb).

Maturity: 9 months. Breeding: Up to 6 young born in litters produced twice each year.

Life span: 3 years.

Status: Common.

 

Agile Gracile Mouse Opossum

Size: 11 - 14 cm (4.25 - 5.5 in); weight unknown.

This tiny marsupial lives in Peru, Brazil and northern Argentina. It lives in forests, where it forages and nests alone. It does not dig its own burrow, but occupies a nest abandoned by another animal. Its prehensile tail and opposable big toe help to make it an excellent climber.

 

Big-eared Opossum

This opossum lives along the Atlantic coast of Brazil. It is found in the unique Atlantic rainforests that grow in this region, as well as in other types of forest that clothe the highlands further inland. Many of these habitats, especially the Atlantic rainforest, are under grave threat. However, this adaptable opossum seems to be largely unaffected by deforestation and human settlement. Being a generalist feeder, it can survive just as well by rooting through rubbish tips as it can by eating fruits and insects deep in the forest. The big-eared opossum also eats other mammals, small birds and fish.

This species has a distinctive black line that runs down the middle of the forehead. The large ears are hairless.

This opossum is nocturnal and lives alone. It looks for food on the ground or by climbing through undergrowth and the lower branches of forest trees. In flooded parts of its range, it spends long periods living in trees.

Distribution: Eastern South America.

Habitat: Coastal forest.

Food: Insects and fruit.

Size: 30 - 41 cm (11.8 - 16.1 in); 0.7 - 1.9 kg (1.5 - 4.25 lb).

Maturity: 6 months.

Breeding: 2 - 3 litters of up to 7 offspring each.

Life span: 2 years.

Status: Lower risk.

Gallery of Opossum