Philander opossumgray four-eyed opossum

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Geographic Range

Gray four-eyed opossums (Philander opossum) are Neotropical marsupials with a range that extends from northeastern Mexico in Tamaulipas, to southeastern Brazil. Within this range, they may be found from Brazil's Atlantic coast, westward into Peru and Argentina and throughout Central America in tropical lowlands and the Amazon and Parana basins. (Cerqueira, 1993; Fonseca and Cerqueira, 1991; Nowak, 1999; Patton and da Silva, 2007)

Habitat

Gray four-eyed opossums are found mainly in tropical forested areas such as tropical evergreen, secondary growth and gallery forests. However, they may be found in the southern portions of South America, where the habitat is more temperate. These opossums generally prefer damp areas near swamps and streams and usually reside in areas that receive more than 1,000 mm of rain per year. Gray four-eyed opossums may also be found in highly disturbed habitats near human structures or within agricultural areas such as orchards and sugar cane fields. These animals generally prefer lowland areas and are usually found below 1,000 m in elevation. They are primarily terrestrial; however, they are also proficient swimmers and are occasionally found on islands as a result. (Adler and Saemon, 1996; Brito, et al., 2008; Castro-Arellano, et al., 2000; Fonseca and Cerqueira, 1991; Patton and da Silva, 2007)

  • Range elevation
    1,600 (high) m
    ft
  • Average elevation
    below 1,000 m
    ft

Physical Description

The common name, gray four-eyed opossum, is derived from their gray coat and the white spots located above each eye, which makes them appear to have four eyes. The coloration of their short, straight, soft hair is gray dorsally and off-white to yellow ventrally. Their dorsal pelage may vary slightly with their location, for instance, individuals in Mexico tend to have pale gray fur, in Central America they have dark gray fur and in Columbia they have dark brown to blackish fur. Their prehensile tail has grayish fur covering the first 50 to 60 mm from the base, the tip of their tail is naked and pale as it narrows towards the end. These animals have dark masks around their eyes, in contrast to the white coloration of their cheeks and chin. Their large, hairless ears are black along the edges. Their body length is 200 to 331 mm; with a tail length of 195 to 355 mm. Females are slightly smaller and have seven mammae within their pouch. Gray four-eyed opossums have a slender body and a large head. Their rostrum is fairly long and narrows at the tip. Their hind limbs are longer and more muscular than the forelimbs. In the wild, adults weigh between 200 and 674 g, however, captive individuals can weigh up to 1,500 g. (Castro-Arellano, et al., 2000; Julien-Laferriere and Atramentowicz, 1990; Nowak, 1999; Vieira, 1997)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    200 to 674 g
    7.05 to 23.75 oz
  • Range length
    395 to 686 mm
    15.55 to 27.01 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    1.886 W
    AnAge

Reproduction

There is no specific information regarding the mating systems of gray four-eyed 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)

Most populations of gray four-eyed opossums reproduce seasonally, although some may breed throughout the year, with lower levels from June to August. During the rainy season, fruit is plentiful and more young may be cared for, while during the dry season, fruit is rare and fewer young are born. Reproduction only ceases entirely when the mother's nutritional requirements are not met. These animals produce 2 to 4 litters per year, however, success is low; many pouch young do not survive, especially during the dry months. Although the gestation period of gray four-eyed opossums has not been reported, a close relative, southern four-eyed opossums (Philander frenatus), have a 13 to 14 day gestation period. Litter sizes vary from 1 to 7 young, with an average of 4 to 5 young, each weighing about 9 g. Larger females, those over 445 grams, tend to have larger litters (about 5 per birth), while smaller females, those under 445 grams, have fewer young (about 3.8). Females become sexually mature at about 6 to 7 months, while males become sexually mature around 7 months. (Adler and Saemon, 1996; Castro-Arellano, et al., 2000; Fleck and Harder, 1995; Hingst, et al., 1998; Julien-Laferriere and Atramentowicz, 1990; Nowak, 1999; Patton and da Silva, 2007)

  • Breeding interval
    Gray four-eyed opossums have about a 90 day breeding interval.
  • Breeding season
    Gray four-eyed opossums may breed year-round, but particularly during the wet season.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 7
  • Average number of offspring
    4 to 5
  • Average number of offspring
    5
    AnAge
  • Average gestation period
    13 to 14 days
  • Range weaning age
    68 to 75 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    6 to 7 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    450 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    7 months

Young gray four-eyed opossums nurse from their mother’s pouch, which contains 7 mammae. These offspring are weaned when they are 68 to 75 days old, or when they weigh between 50 to 75 grams. After being weaned, young often stay in the nest for an additional 8 to 15 days, during this time, females may become aggressive toward the young. (Castro-Arellano, et al., 2000; Hershkovitz, 1997)

Lifespan/Longevity

Gray four-eyed opossums may live up to 2.5 years in the wild. In captivity, these animals may live for up to 3.5 years. (Castro-Arellano, et al., 2000)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    2.5 (high) years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    3.5 (high) years

Behavior

Gray four-eyed opossums are primarily nocturnal; however, some populations, such as those in Suriname, exhibit diurnal activity patterns as well. These animals generally construct nests from dried leaves in the lower branches of trees, 8 to 10 m from the ground; however, nests may also be found on the ground, in burrows, in fallen logs and in abandoned homes. Their nests are globular in shape and have a diameter of approximately 30 cm. Although they are proficient climbers and swimmers, much of their activity is terrestrial. Gray four-eyed opossums use their pronounced hind limbs for scampering and jumping along the forest floor. After being released from capture, they usually use a terrestrial escape route rather than climbing trees. Unlike other opossum species, gray four-eyed opossums are often described as swift, agile and aware. (Adler and Saemon, 1996; Castro-Arellano, et al., 2000; Cerqueira, 1993; Fleck and Harder, 1995; Gentile and Cerqueira, 1995; Julien-Laferriere and Atramentowicz, 1990; Nowak, 1999; Vieira, 1997)

  • Average territory size
    3,400 m^2

Home Range

Although gray four-eyed opossums are solitary, these animals are generally not considered territorial, with overlapping home ranges and up to 150 individuals per km2. Their home ranges are not firmly established, animals may travel nomadically, particularly when food availability is low. In the Panama Canal Zone, their home range size was estimated at 3,400 m2. (Castro-Arellano, et al., 2000; Patton and da Silva, 2007)

Communication and Perception

Gray four-eyed opossums are not known as vocal animals, however, these animals do communicate with a series of clicks, chirps and hisses. Unlike many other opossum species, these animals do not ‘play possum’ when threatened, instead these animals will fiercely fight perceived threats. When they are in duress, they also make a series of threatening visual displays such as opening their mouths and hissing. Males also communicate with breeding females using sternal and abdominal scent glands. (Castro-Arellano, et al., 2000)

Food Habits

Gray four-eyed opossums are omnivorous. About half of their diet consists of small animals such as insects, earthworms, birds, lizards, eggs, frogs, crustaceans, snails and small mammals, particularly spiny rats. The remainder of their diet includes leaves, bark, seeds, nuts, nectar and fruits such as papayas, bananas, sweet lemons and jobo plums. Their diet varies seasonally, during the wet season, they consume more plant matter because it is more widely available, during the dry season, they are much more insectivorous. (Castro-Arellano, et al., 2000; Fleck and Harder, 1995; Fonseca and Cerqueira, 1991; Julien-Laferriere and Atramentowicz, 1990; Nowak, 1999; Patton and da Silva, 2007)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • eggs
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • roots and tubers
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • nectar

Predation

Gray four-eyed opossums are preyed upon by a variety of mammals, owls and large reptiles such as Amazon tree boas, South American bushmasters, ocelots, jaguarundis, tayras, greater grisons, gray foxes and barn owls. Compared to other species of opossums, these animals are extremely fierce fighters, defending themselves violently as needed. Likewise, the white fur spots located above their eyes gives the appearance of always being awake and vigilant, which may detract some predators. (Castro-Arellano, et al., 2000)

Ecosystem Roles

Gray four-eyed opossums are important dispersers for Cecropia seeds, particularly because they often deposit the seeds in high quality sites. Like most other opossum species, these animals carry a wide variety of internal and external parasites such as nematodes, trematodes, cestodes, fleas, mites, lice, ticks and chiggers. (Castro-Arellano, et al., 2000)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • nematodes: Cruzia tentaculata, Globocephalus marsupialis, Vianna barusi, V. conspicua, V. minispicula, V. skrjabini, V. tenorai, V. vianniai
  • trematodes: Amphimeruse ruparupu, Duboisiella proloba, Paragonimus amazonicus, Plagiorchis didelphidis, Zonorchis allentoshi
  • cestodes: Linnistowia iheringi, Oochoristica brasiliensis, Sparganum reptans
  • lice: Gliricolla porcelli, Gryopus ovalis, Trimenophon hispidus
  • fleas: Adoratopsylla intermedia, A. antiquorum, Ctenocephaloides felis, Neotyplocercus rosenbergi, Polygenis roberti, P. klagesi, Rhopalopsyllus australis, R. cacicus, R. lutzi, Tritopsylla intermedia, Xenopsylla cheopsis
  • ticks and mites: Amblyomma auricularium, A. geayi, Euschoengastia nunezi, Haemolaelaps glasgowi, Ixodes lasallei, I. luciae, I. venezuelensis, Androlaelaps fahrenholzi, Archemyobia pectinata, Eutrombicula alfreddugesi, E. goeldii, E. tropita, << Ornithonyssus wernecki>>, Tur apicalis, T. uniscutatus
  • chiggers: Pseudoschoengastia bulbifera, Trombicula dunni, T. keenani

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Gray four-eyed opossums help control insect and small vertebrate populations. In certain areas of Mexico, these animals are also hunted for food. (Castro-Arellano, et al., 2000; Fonseca and Cerqueira, 1991)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Gray four-eyed opossums occasionally feed on corn fields and fruit crops, damaging farmer’s fields. Likewise, these animals are reservoirs for Trypanosoma cruzi. (Castro-Arellano, et al., 2000; )

Conservation Status

Currently, gray four-eyed opossums are considered a species of ‘least concern’ according to the IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species. Their conservation status was determined due to their large population size, large geographic range and tolerance to human disturbed environments. (Brito, et al., 2008)

Other Comments

Gray four-eyed opossums have a wide array of other common names such as tlacuache cuatro ojos, raton tlacuache gigante, zorrito de arbol, ooch, uc c’o, cayopolin, zorro de cuatro ojos, fo-ai awari, cucha gris de cuatro ojos, zorro, pericote, mucura-de-cuatro-olhos, carachupa, chucha mantequera, comadreja gris de cuatro ojos, Guaiki and mbicure. These animals are believed to have 4 subspecies, although it is under debate. The 4 currently recognized subspecies of gray four-eyed opossums include Pilander opossum canus, P.o. fuscogriseus, P.o. melanurus and P.o. opossum. (Castro-Arellano, et al., 2000; Patton and da Silva, 2007)

Contributors

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

Michael Waters (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

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.

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

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.

causes disease in humans

an animal which directly causes disease in humans. For example, diseases caused by infection of filarial nematodes (elephantiasis and river blindness).

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

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

forest

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

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

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.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

semelparous

offspring are all produced in a single group (litter, clutch, etc.), after which the parent usually dies. Semelparous organisms often only live through a single season/year (or other periodic change in conditions) but may live for many seasons. In both cases reproduction occurs as a single investment of energy in offspring, with no future chance for investment in reproduction.

sexual

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

solitary

lives alone

swamp

a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

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.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

References

Adler, G., J. Saemon. 1996. Distribution of Four-eyed Opossum, Philander opossum on Small Islands in Panama. Mammalia, 60:1: 91-99.

Brito, D., A. Cuaron, F. Reid, L. Emmons. 2008. "Philander opossum" (On-line). IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species. Accessed September 10, 2013 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/40516/0.

Castro-Arellano, I., H. Zarza, R. Medellin. 2000. Philander opossum. Mammalian Species, 638: 1-8.

Cerqueira, R. 1993. A Five-year Population Study of an Assemblance of Small Mammals in Southeastern Brazil. Mammalia, 57(4): 507-517.

Fernandes, F., L. Cruz, E. Martins, S. dos Reis. 2010. Growth and home range size of the gracile mouse opossums Gracilinanus microtarsus (Marsupialia: Didelphidae) in Brazilian cerrado. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 26:2: 185-192.

Fleck, D., J. Harder. 1995. Ecology of Marsupials in two Amazonian rain forests in northeastern Peru. Journal of Mammalogy, 76:3: 809-818.

Fonseca, S., R. Cerqueira. 1991. Water and Salt Balance in a South American Marsupial, the Gray Four-eyed Opossum (Philander opossum). Mammalia, 55(3): 421-432.

Gentile, R., R. Cerqueira. 1995. Movement Patterns of Five Species of Small Mammals in a Brazilian Restinga. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 11: 671-677.

Hershkovitz, P. 1997. Composition of the family Didelphidae Gray, 1821 (Didelphoidea: Marsupialia), with a review of the morphology and behavior of the included four-eyed pouched opossum of the genus Philander Tiedmann, 1808. Fieldiana: Zoology, 86: 1-103.

Hingst, E., P. Sergio D'Andrea, R. Santori, R. Cerqueira. 1998. Breeding of Philander frenata (Didelphimorphia, Didelphidae) in captivity. Laboratory Animals, 32: 434-438.

Julien-Laferriere, D., M. Atramentowicz. 1990. Feeding and Reproduction of Three Didelphid Marsupials in Two Neotropical Forests (French Guiana). Biotropica, 22(4): 404-415.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

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.

Patton, J., M. da Silva. 2007. Genus Philander Brisson, 1762. Pp. 27-35 in A Gardner, ed. Mammals of South America: Marsupials, Xenarthrans, Shrews, and Bats, Vol. 1. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Vieira, M. 1997. Body Size and Form in Two Neotropical Marsupials. Mammalia, 61(2): 245-254.