Gracilinanus dryaswood sprite gracile mouse opossum

Geographic Range

Wood-sprite opossums (Gracilinanus dryas) are found in northern South America in the Andes Mountains of western Venezuela and northeastern Columbia. Their presence has been confirmed in Venezuela’s Cordillera de Merida and Paramo de Tama, as well as Columbia’s Departmento Cudinamarca. (Creighton and Gardner, 2008; Perez-Hernandez, et al., 2011; Voss, et al., 2009)


Wood-sprite opossums are an arboreal species found in wet montane forests. Their habitats include pristine cloud forests, but they can also be found in secondary forests. These animals live in a wide range of elevations, from 1,100 to 4,000 meters. (Creighton and Gardner, 2008; Perez-Hernandez, et al., 2011; Voss, et al., 2009)

  • Range elevation
    1,100 to 4,000 m
    to ft

Physical Description

Wood-sprite opossums are small, pouchless marsupials with long, silky, dark brown dorsal pelage and long brownish-gray ventral pelage. These animals are adapted for an arboreal lifestyle, as shown by their long, unicolor tail. Their total body length is about 250 mm, including a tail length of about 140 mm; in general, their tail-to-body ratio is 1.2 to 1.7. Their hind feet are about 14 mm long. Wood-sprite opossums are occasionally mistaken for their relative, northern gracile opossums (Gracilinanus marica); however, wood-sprite opossums have longer darker fur with striking, light colored guard hairs, giving them a frosted appearance. Other members of genus Gracilinanus are sexually dimorphic, where males are larger than females; however, it is not known whether this applies to wood-sprite opossums as well. Members of genus Gracilinanus may grow lifelong, these species are short-lived; however, the rare individuals that survive multiple years tend to be noticeably larger. In general, the temperature and metabolic rate of didelphids tends to be lower than similarly sized placental mammals. (Creighton and Gardner, 2008; Diaz, et al., 2002; Pires, et al., 2010; Voss, et al., 2009)

  • Average length
    250 mm
    9.84 in


Didelphids engage in a polygynous mating system. There is very little information specific to wood-sprite opossums; however, the extreme competition among males for breeding females may cause a massive amount of stress. Other members of genus Gracilinanus are considered partially semelparous because many of the males die shortly after breeding. This trend is considered only partial because a few males do survive to a second or even third breeding season. (Cooper, et al., 2009; Fernandes, et al., 2010; Martins, et al., 2006a)

There is very little information specifically regarding the reproductive behavior of wood-sprite opossums. Much more research has been conducted on their close relative, Brazilian gracile opossums. It is not known whether these species share all reproductive traits, however, it is not unlikely that these species share at least some reproductive traits. Brazilian gracile opossums begin mating when they are about 1 year old. This species reproduces seasonally; females are receptive during the end of the cool dry season, from August to September. Several pregnant and lactating females have been captured in September to December. Brazilian gracile opossums’ strategy of synchronous estrous means that their young are born in October to December, during the first half of the warm wet season when insect prey are most populous. This likely optimizes the female’s ability to capture food while caring for young. Litters are composed of 6 to 14 individuals, with an average of 11 offspring. Weaning begins at about 2 to 3 months of age, when the young weigh about 8 to 10 grams. (Martins, et al., 2006b; Martins, et al., 2006a; Pires, et al., 2010)

Genus Gracilinanus is composed of pouchless marsupials. Both attached and unattached young usually stay near their mother; however, older offspring may stay behind in the nest while their mother forages. Brazilian gracile opossum, a close relative of wood-sprite opossums, wean their offspring when they are about 2 to 3 months old, during the warm wet season. (Hershkovitz, 1992; Martins, et al., 2006a; Pires, et al., 2010)


There is currently no information regarding the lifespan of wood-sprite opossums specifically, however, other members of genus Gracilinanus typically live 1 to 2 years. Likewise, other members of this genus are considered partially semelparous; most males do not survive to a second breeding season. Among Brazilian gracile opossums, a close relative of wood-sprite opossums, males invest so much in competing for mates that they often show fur loss, poor body condition and are more likely to become infested with parasites after the beginning of the breeding season. Although females also have a short lifespan, they survive to a second year more frequently than males. In general, the offspring from the preceding season replace the adults each year. (Cooper, et al., 2009; Martins, et al., 2006b; Martins, et al., 2006a; Pires, et al., 2010)


Members of genus Gracilinanus are solitary and nocturnal; they typically only come together for breeding, they may forage in a similar location, but do not interact. These animals are mostly arboreal, but may forage on the ground. Other members of their genus are known to enter torpor when the temperature is colder than 20°C. (Cooper, et al., 2009; Hershkovitz, 1992; Pires, et al., 2010)

Home Range

There is currently no information regarding the home range size of wood-sprite opossums. However, their close relative, Brazilian gracile opossums have home range sizes of approximately 1,400 meters squared for males and 1,200 meters squared for females. (Fernandes, et al., 2010; Pires, et al., 2010)

Communication and Perception

There is very little information regarding the communication or perception of genus Gracilinanus. Members of this genus may produce a variety of sounds defensively or when they are startled, these sounds include hissing, growling and screeching. It has been suggested that arboreal marsupials are more vocal and have more adept vision than their non-arboreal counterparts; however, no conclusive studies have been conducted. (Bradshaw, et al., 1998; Delciello and Vieira, 2009; Hershkovitz, 1992)

Food Habits

Very little is known about the feeding habits of wood-sprite opossums. Other members of genus Gracilinanus are insectivorous, consuming primarily beetles, ants and wasps. In addition, other members of the genus also eat fruits, especially during the dry season and are important seed dispersers. Although these species are arboreal, most forage on the ground. (Cooper, et al., 2009; Creighton and Gardner, 2008; Hershkovitz, 1992; Martins and Bonato, 2004; Martins, et al., 2006b; Martins, et al., 2006a; Pires, et al., 2010; de Camargo, et al., 2011)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit


There is currently no information regarding the predation of wood-sprite opossum specifically, however, general predators of genus Gracilinanus may include various owls, snakes and lizards. Similar species are predated upon by white-tailed hawks, crab-eating foxes, oncillas, maned wolves, margays and jaguarundis. Likewise, the remains of unidentified members of genus Gracilinanus have also been recorded in the scat of ocelots, coatis and striped owls. (Bianchi and Mendes, 2007; Bianchi, et al., 2011; Ferreira, et al., 2013; Granzinolli and Motta-Junior, 2006; Hershkovitz, 1992; Motta-Junior, et al., 2004; Pires, et al., 2010)

  • Known Predators
    • owls (Strigiformes)
    • snakes (Serpentes)
    • lizards (Lacertilla)

Ecosystem Roles

Wood-sprite opossums are likely insectivores and seed dispersers. They are also known to host a species of louse (Cummingsia micheneri). Other members of genus Gracilinanus are known to hosts of a variety of nematodes, lice and botfly larvae. (Cooper, et al., 2009; Creighton and Gardner, 2008; Cruz, et al., 2009; Feijo, et al., 2008; Martins and Bonato, 2004; Martins, et al., 2006a; Pires, et al., 2010; Puttker, et al., 2008; Torres, et al., 2007; Torres, et al., 2009; de Camargo, et al., 2011)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • lice (Cummingsia micheneri)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There are currently no known positive impacts of wood-sprite opossums on human populations.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are currently no known negative impacts of wood-sprite opossums on human populations.

Conservation Status

Wood-spite opossums are listed as near threatened according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The primary threat to this species is habitat deforestation, currently; populations are primarily restricted to high elevations. (Perez-Hernandez, et al., 2011)


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



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

World Map


uses sound to communicate


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

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.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


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


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


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.


active during the night


having more than one female as a mate at one time

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


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


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


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


uses sight to communicate


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


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