Didelphis pernigraAndean white-eared opossum

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Geographic Range

Andean white-eared opossums (Didelphis pernigra) are found in mountainous regions of northern and western South America including Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. This species may also be found in the northern portions of Argentina. (Cerqueira and Tribe, 2008; Lew, et al., 2008)

Habitat

Andean white-eared opossums occupy varying habitats depending on a population’s range, although generally these animals prefer forested mountainous habitats. In Venezuela, Columbia and Bolivia this species is generally found in high elevation forests. In more western portions of this species range, they may be found in riparian areas at lower elevations. Andean white-eared opossums may survive in a wide range of human disturbed environments including farming areas, suburbs and open lands. (Cerqueira and Tribe, 2008; Lew, et al., 2008)

  • Range elevation
    1,500 to 3,700 m
    to ft

Physical Description

Andean white-eared opossums are member of the genus Didelphis. Until very recently, Andean white-eared opossums were included in Didelphis albiventris, along with Guianan white-eared opossums. In 2002, the white-eared opossum group was split into 3 separate species, white-eared opossums (Didelphis albiventris), Guianan white-eared opossums (Didelphis imperfecta) and Andean white-eared opossums (Didelphis pernigra). Due to this recent split, information regarding each of these new individual species is sparse. (Lemos and Cerqueira, 2002)

There have been very few published accounts detailing the physical appearance of Andean white-eared opossums. However, given that this species was grouped with Didelphis albiventris until very recently, it is likely that these species share many similarities. These opossums are relatively robust with pointed muzzles. Andean white-eared opossums can be distinguished by the stark whiteness of their facial fur and their more pronounced black facial markings; they also have long black guard hairs throughout their pelage. Andean white-eared opossums have completely white ears that are naked and elongated. These species have prehensile tails that are largely hairless and scaly, with the exception of fur at the base of the tail and a bit of sparse fur throughout. They have a pronounced sagittal crest and the following dental formula: 5/4, 1/1, 3/3, 4/4. Females have a marsupium with 13 mammae. (Cerqueira and Tribe, 2008; Lemos and Cerqueira, 2002; Oliveira-Santos, et al., 2008; Smith, 2007; de Almeida, et al., 2008)

Reproduction

There is no specific information regarding the mating systems of Andean white-eared opossums. However, members of family Didelphidae are generally considered polygynous. Males compete for reproductive females, communicating with a series of clicking noises. Didelphids show neither courtship displays nor pair bonds. (Fernandes, et al., 2010; O'Connell, 2006)

There is little published information specifically regarding the reproductive behavior of Andean white-eared opossums. However, there appears to be little behavioral variation in the studied members of their genus. These species typically have 2 breeding periods; breeding generally begins at the end of the dry season and offspring are born during the wet season. The gestation period for these species tends to be very short, about 12 to 14 days on average. The specific number of young produced by Andean white-eared opossums is not known, however, their close relative Didelphis albiventris typically has 4 to 23 young. These offspring are extremely altricial; they are often about 15 mm long and weigh about 0.13 grams. (O'Connell, 2006; Rademaker and Cerqueira, 2006; Smith, 2007; Talamondi and Dias, 1999)

The parental investment of Andean white-eared opossums has not been reported, however, research has been conducted on their close relative, white-eared opossums (Didelphis albiventris). Once the offspring of white-eared opossums are born, they must climb to the marsupium. Although a female may have many offspring within a litter, their marsupium only includes 13 mammae, as such, many of these altricial young will not survive. Young white-eared opossums remain within the pouch attached to the mammae for the first two months of their life, after which, they cling to their mothers back. They will stay with their mother for several more weeks; they are weaned at 3 to 4 months of age. White-eared opossums are sexually mature at around 9 months. (Cerqueira and Tribe, 2008; Rademaker and Cerqueira, 2006; Smith, 2007)

Lifespan/Longevity

The lifespan of Andean white-eared opossums has not been reported, although they are frequent victims of car collisions. Most didelphids have a very short lifespan, for instance, white-eared opossums typically do not survive beyond 20 months of age. (Delgado V, 2007; Smith, 2007)

Behavior

The behavior of Andean white-eared opossums has not been reported. However, their close relatives Guianan white-eared opossums are solitary, although they may feed in similar areas with conspecifics, they do not interact. They are primarily terrestrial, but they are also adept climbers. These animals are nocturnal. During daylight hours Guianan white-eared opossums take shelter in abandoned termite nests, hallow trees or in the tree canopy, likewise, they may build leaf nests or burrow for refuge. (Lew, et al., 2008; O'Connell, 2006; Rademaker and Cerqueira, 2006)

Home Range

The home range size of Andean white-eared opossums has not been reported.

Communication and Perception

The perception channels of Andean white-eared opossums have not been reported, however, research has been conducted on other members of genus Didelphis. White-eared opossums primarily detect food items using their olfactory and auditory senses. In general, members of genus Didelphis also have very good eyesight. Likewise, members of this genus are equipped with long whiskers, which help them to navigate at night. When these animals perceive a threat they typically bare their teeth, they can also run rather quickly when they are on the ground, their speed is impaired when they are climbing. In somewhat rare cases, when white-eared or Virginia opossums perceive an extreme threat, they may feign death. (O'Connell, 2006; Oliveira and Santori, 1999; Smith, 2007)

  • Communication Channels
  • visual

Food Habits

There has been no published information regarding the food habits of Andean white-eared opossums, however, there is a great deal of information regarding their close relative, white-eared opossums (Didelphis albiventris). White-eared opossums are omnivorous opportunistic feeders. They primarily feed on invertebrates, however, their diet changes based on food availability. Their diet components are generally as follows: 33% invertebrates, 28% vegetation including leaves, grasses and fibers, 17% birds, 12% fruits and seeds, 6% other vertebrates and 4% unknown. Among invertebrates, white-eared opossums typically feed on beetles, millipedes and dung beetles. Although both adult and young white-eared opossums have similar diets, adults are more likely to capture and consume vertebrate prey. When feeding, white-eared opossums sit in a semi-erect position, when consuming invertebrates and vertebrates, these animals typically eat the heads first. (Alessio, et al., 2005; Caceres, 2002; Oliveira and Santori, 1999; Oliveira-Santos, et al., 2008; Smith, 2007; Talamondi and Dias, 1999)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit

Predation

There are no specific reports regarding predation of Andean white-eared opossums, however, white-eared opossums are predated upon by a variety of animals including maned wolves, felines, foxes, roadside hawks, barn owls, yellow anacondas and boa constrictors. Likewise, juvenile white-eared opossums may be prey for various adult snakes and great horned owls (Jacomo, et al., 2004; Oliveira and Santori, 1999; Smith, 2007; Tomazzoni, et al., 2004)

Ecosystem Roles

Although it has not been specifically reported for Andean white-eared opossums, their close relative white-eared opossums are important seed dispersers, specifically for pioneer plants. Other members of genus Didelphis are known to be reservoirs for numerous ecto- and endoparasites including nematodes, trematodes, protozoans, ticks, mites and fleas, however, parasites specific to Andean white-eared opossums have not been reported. (Caceres, 2002; Cerqueira and Tribe, 2008; Fornazari, et al., 2011; Quintal, et al., 2011; Smith, 2007)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There are no known positive impacts of Andean white-eared opossums on human populations.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known negative impacts of Andean white-eared opossums on human populations.

Conservation Status

Andean white-eared opossums are currently listed as a species of least concern according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This species is found in a wide range and likely has a fairly large population size throughout. (Lew, et al., 2008)

Contributors

Leila Siciliano Martina (author), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

Glossary

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

omnivore

an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

Alessio, F., A. Pontes, V. da Silva. 2005. Feeding by Didelphis albiventris on treegum in the northeastern Atlantic forest of Brazil. Mastozoologia Neotropical, 12:1: 53-56.

Caceres, N. 2002. Food habits and seed dispersal by the white-eared opossum Didelphis albiventris in southern Brazil. Studies on Neotropical Fauna and the Environment, 37: 1-8.

Cerqueira, R., C. Tribe. 2008. Genus Didelphis. Pp. 17-25 in A Gardner, ed. Mammals of South America: Marsupials, Xenarthrans, Shrews, and Bats, Vol. 1. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Delgado V, C. 2007. Roadway mortality of mammals on the El Esobero Road, Envigado (Antioquia), Columbia. Actualidades Biologicas, 29:87: 235-239.

Fernandes, F., L. Cruz, E. Martins, S. dos Reis. 2010. Growth and home range size of the gracile mouse opossum Gracilinanus microtarsus (Marsupialia: Didelphidae) in Brazilian cerrado. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 26:21: 185-192.

Fornazari, F., C. Teixeira, R. da Silva, M. Leiva, S. de Almeido, H. Langoni. 2011. Prevalence of antibodies against Toxoplasma gondii among Brazilian white-eared opossums (Didelphis albiventris). Veterinary Parasitology, 179:1: 238-241.

Jacomo, A., L. Silveira, J. Diniz-Filho. 2004. Niche separation between the maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus), the crab-eating fox (Dusicyon thous) and the hoary fox (Dusicyon vetulus) in central Brazil. Journal of Zoology, 262: 99-106.

Lemos, B., R. Cerqueira. 2002. Morphological differentiation in the white-eared opossum group (Didelphidae: Didelphis). Journal of Mammalogy, 83:2: 354-369.

Lew, D., B. Patterson, C. Delgado, S. Solari. 2008. "Didelphis pernigra" (On-line). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed May 02, 2013 at www.iucnredlist.org.

O'Connell, M. 2006. American Opossums. Pp. 808-813 in D MacDonald, S Norris, eds. The Encyclopedia of Mammals, Vol. 1. London: The Brown Reference Group.

Oliveira-Santos, L., M. Tortato, M. Graipel. 2008. Activity pattern of Atlantic forest small arboreal mammals as revealed by camera traps. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 24: 563-567.

Oliveira, M., R. Santori. 1999. Predatory behavior of the opossum Didelphis albiventris on the pitviper Bothrops jararaca. Studies on Neotropical Fauna and the Environment, 34:2: 72-75.

Quintal, A., E. Ribeiro, F. Rodrigues, F. Rocha, L. Floeter-Winter, C. Nunes. 2011. Leishmania spp in Didelphis albiventris and Micoureus paraguayanus (Didelphimorphia: Didelphidae) of Brazil. Veterinary Parasitology, 176: 112-119.

Rademaker, V., R. Cerqueira. 2006. Variation in the latitudinal reproductive patterns of the genus Didelphis (Didelphimorphia: Didelphidae). Austral Ecology, 31:3: 337-342.

Smith, P. 2007. White-eared opossum Didelphis albiventris. Fauna Paraguay Handbook of the Mammals of Paraguay, 1: 1-19. Accessed May 10, 2013 at http://www.faunaparaguay.com/mam1Didelphisalbiventris.pdf.

Talamondi, S., M. Dias. 1999. Population and community ecology of small mammals in southeastern Brazil. Mammalia, 63:2: 167-181.

Tomazzoni, A., E. Pedo, S. Hartz. 2004. Food habits of great horned owls (Bubo virginianus) in the breeding season in Lami Biological Reserve, southern Brazil. Ornithologia Neotropical, 15: 279-282.

de Almeida, A., C. Torquetti, S. Talamoni. 2008. Use of space by Neotropical marsupial Didelphis albiventris (Didelphimorphia: Didelphidae) in an urban forest fragment. Revista Brasileira de Zoologia, 25:2: 214-219.