When we think of opossums, the Virginia opossum is the likeliest one to come to mind. However, like Australia, Costa Rica has many species of opossums who fit the word “cute” to a T. This tiny country of fewer than five million people has eight species of these mostly nocturnal mammals.
Opossums are in the family Didelphidae and they are marsupials, and like their Australian counterparts, some species have pouches — known as the marsupium in scientific circles. Strangely enough, there are some species here that don’t have pouches.
Like This Adorable Mexican Mouse Opossum:
Then there’s the similarly marked Alston’s woolly mouse opossum (Marmosa alstoni), which also has no pouch.
These small marsupials are among the most abundant species of opossums in the Americas, Britannica. com reports. They are among the tiniest of the opossums, ranging in size from just over four inches (10 cm) to 19 inches (49 cm). It’s easy to see why these agile climbers are called mouse opossums, considering they look just like a mouse, except for that cute black mask!
What do these little guys eat?
These little creatures have a varied diet, but they are definitely fond of nice, crunchy insects, fruit, bird’s eggs and small vertebrates (like frogs, for instance.)
This katydid is definitely on the mouse opossum menu:
Costa Rica has many other fascinating opossums, including:
The gray four-eyed opossum (Philander opossum.) This beautiful opossum with its bright pink nose earned this name because of the bold white spots above its name writes Francisco Durán, a biologist for the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica. The four-eyed opossum is somewhat unusual among opossums because it can sometimes be found on the ground, whereas most opossums prefer prowling around in the trees. It seems to be more common in the southern Pacific of Costa Rica but can also be found well into the mountains — up to 5,249 feet (1600 meters.) This opossum ranges from southern Mexico down to Paraguay and some parts of Argentina.
The water opossum (Chironectes minimus.) There are several things that make this opossum rather unusual. It’s boldly patterned, and unlike others of its kind, it has webbed hind feet, meaning it’s an excellent swimmer. And that’s something it’s other family members prefer to avoid. It prefers to hunt fish and mollusks, as well as aquatic insects, whereas it’s landlubber relatives prefer fruits, insects, and other land-based edibles.
The black-eared opossum (Didelphis marsupialis.) These opossums like to visit our garden. Just like the one above, these critters love papayas, which we’re growing, and our garden also attracts many nice, crunchy insects (which they also love.) It’s closely related to the Virginia opossum but is overall darker in color and larger. Its fur is also thicker and has beautiful orange-buff undertones. Black-eared opossums are found just about everywhere in Costa Rica, including coffee plantations, local villages, or in your attic or chicken coop. Which gets them in trouble here. Unfortunately, local people often kill black-eared opossums for raiding their chicken coops.
A Wow Fact:
These opossums can have 20 kids at once. Wow! That sure must keep mom busy. Fortunately, the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species reports their numbers are stable and considers their status as a species of Least Concern.
A few opossum facts you may not know:
- Most have prehensile trees, meaning they can hang from trees like monkeys.
- Opossums are the only marsupials found outside of Australia.
- Unfortunately, they usually have a short lifespan — believe it or not, they only live about 3 to 5 years in the wild.
- In general, most species tend to prefer hanging around by themselves. Just about the only time, you’ll see more than one opossum is if you see a female with a bunch of babies.
Weird fact you might not know:
One of the weirder things about opossums, although not really unusual for marsupials is that they have a really short gestation period. Short, as in really, really short. Only 13 days. After that, the tiny young (called joeys) have to make the journey to find their mothers’ nipples. Usually, 4 to 8 joeys are born, and once they get old enough, they spend plenty of time on their mother’s back. Once they are about 100 days old, they are ready to go off on their own.
Costa Rica is home to many beautiful opossum species. I’ve showcased only a few of them here, but all of them are fascinating and are just one facet of this country’s astounding wildlife diversity.