Lestoros incaIncan shrew opossum

Geographic Range

Incan shrew opossums (Lestoros inca) are found in the Andes Mountains in Peru and Bolivia. They have been found near the headwaters of Rio Alto Madre de Dios, Rio Marcapata, and Rio Inamberi, as well as in departmento Las Paz, Bolivia. (Myers and Patton, 2008; Patterson and Solari, 2008)


It has been suggested that this species prefers environments that are somewhat less wet than the other members of family Caenolestidae. However, they have been trapped in a variety of wet mossy areas, as well as drier scrub environments. Incan shrew opossums are found in montane environments with low trees, bushes and grasses, often in cloud or elfin forests. They have been found in elevations ranging from 1,800 to 3,600 meters. (Kirsch and Waller, 1979; Myers and Patton, 2008; Patterson and Solari, 2008)

  • Range elevation
    1,800 to 3,600 m
    to ft

Physical Description

Incan shrew opossums are marsupials. They are somewhat shrew-like in appearance and have elongated faces. They are the only members of the genus Lestoros, but are very similar in appearance to genus Caenolestes; however, Incan shrew opossums have smaller upper canines. Incan shrew opossums have thick, medium length, dark gray fur. They have curved ears, small eyes and long hind feet. These animals have whiskers on their chin, side of their nose and their forelimbs. Their total body length is approximately 90 to 120 mm, including a tail length of 105 to 135 mm, approximately the same length as their body. Incan shrew opossums weigh between 20 to 35 grams. (Kirsch and Waller, 1979; Myers and Patton, 2008)

In general, members of family Caenolestidae can be distinguished from other marsupial groups by their unique dentition. They have a reduced number of incisors and their lower middle incisors are large and have a forward slope. The dental formula for genus Caenolestes is: I 4/3, C 1/1, P 3/3, M 4/4, 46 teeth total. While their tail is not prehensile, it is used for support while they climb and for balance. Shrew opossums have short robust limbs, each containing 5 digits; their middle 3 digits are shorter than the outside two. Their humeri are extremely heavy; their femurs are relatively slender in comparison. Members of family Caenolestidae have unusual lip flaps, which may function as a method of preventing debris from interfering with their whiskers or it may help prevent ingestion of unwanted debris. Similar to other marsupials, Caenolestid females have 2 uteri and 2 vaginas. Members of genus Caenolestes lack a pouch but do have 4 mammae, 2 on either side of their abdomen. Caenolestids are sexually dimorphic, with adult males larger than adult females. (Albuja and Patterson, 1996; Lee and Cockburn, 1985; O'Connell, 2006; Osgood and Herrick, 1921; Tirira, 2007)

Common shrew opossums (Caenolestes obscurus), another member of family Caenolestidae, show evidence of a low metabolic rate, based on their body temperature (35.4° C), their body weight (about 40 g), their cool habitat and their thick fur coat. This species shows no evidence of entering torpor. (McNab, 1978)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    20 to 35 g
    0.70 to 1.23 oz
  • Range length
    Including the tail: 195 to 155 mm
    to 6.10 in


There is currently little information available regarding the mating system of Incan shrew opossums.

Female Incan shrew opossums lack a marsupium; however, immature individuals may have an undeveloped fold of skin that they lose before reaching maturity. Females have 4 mammae available for their young to nurse. Evidence suggests that Caenolestid females have the same number of ova as mammae, unlike family Didelphidae. In support of that notion, a female was found pregnant with 3 embryos, 2 in the right uterus and 1 in the left. These animals likely have one annual breeding season from February to August. (O'Connell, 2006; Osgood and Herrick, 1921; Tirira, 2007; Tyndale-Biscoe and Renfree, 1987)

  • Breeding interval
    Members of family Caenolestidae likely breed once per year.
  • Breeding season
    The breeding season of family Caenolestidae is likely between February and August.

No information is currently available regarding this species.


There is currently no information on the longevity of Incan shrew opossums.


Members of genus Caenolestes are solitary; they are primarily active during the early evening and at night. They are terrestrial, but they are also adept climbers. During the day, these animals stay in tunnels under tree roots. When they are active, they travel through paths in dense vegetation. (Myers and Patton, 2008; O'Connell, 2006; Patterson and Solari, 2008; Tirira, 2007)

Home Range

There is currently no information available about the home range of Incan shrew opossums.

Communication and Perception

Members of family Caenolestidae have very small eyes and poor eyesight. Incan shrew opossums have tactile whiskers on their chin, the side of their nose and their forelimbs. Their unusual lip flaps have the hypothesized function of clearing debris from their sensitive vibrissae, but they may merely function as a method of preventing the ingestion of unwanted debris. Their somewhat primitive brains have enlarged olfactory bulbs, which could indicate an enhanced sense of smell. When they are startled they attempt to hide and they hiss when cornered. Caenolestids are not noted for frequent production of sound, however, captive individuals may make several sounds including whistles, bird-like screams, rat-like squeaks and drawing air through their incisors. (Hume, 1982; Kirsch and Waller, 1979; Myers and Patton, 2008; O'Connell, 2006; Vaughan, et al., 2011)

Food Habits

Members of genus Caenolestes are opportunistic feeders. Their stomach contents indicate that they are primarily insectivores. Ingested invertebrates include beetles, crickets, butterfly larvae, centipedes, grasshoppers, spiders, and earthworms. A smaller proportion of their diet is composed of vegetation, fruit and small vertebrates including juvenile mice. They forage for food in moss and leaf litter. When they find a food item, they manipulate and consume it with their forepaws, from a semi-seated position. As Caenolestids shear their food with their incisors, they produce a clicking sound. (Barkley and Whitaker, 1984; Timm and Patterson, 2008; Tirira, 2007)

  • Animal Foods
  • mammals
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • terrestrial worms
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • fruit


There is currently little information regarding the predation of Incan shrew opossums. However, there are several carnivores known to inhabit a similar range and prey upon small mammals, such predators include Andean Mountain cats (Leopardus jacobita), pampas cats (Leopardus colocolo), culpeo foxes (Lycalopex culpaeus) and cougars (puma concolor), among others. (Lucherini, et al., 2009)

Ecosystem Roles

Incan shrew opossums have an insectivorous diet. Likewise, Caenolestids are often plagued by lice of the genus Cummingsia. Interestingly, Australian marsupials are also affected by similar lice, related to the family level. Incan shrew opossums are known to carry chiggers (Sasacarus incae), mites (Xenomyobia hirsute, Hoffmannina peruensis, and Crotiscus brennani) and nematodes (Pterygodermatites hymanae). Caenolestids may also become infested with South American hard ticks (Ixodes jonesae). (Barkley and Whitaker, 1984; Fain, 1994; Jimenez and Patterson, 2012; Lee and Cockburn, 1985; Lee, 1982; Lee, 1987; Tirira, 2007; VanZolini and Guimaraes, 1955)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • lice (Cummingsia)
  • South American hard ticks (Ixodes jonesae)
  • chiggers (Sasacarus incae)
  • mites (Xenomyobia hirsute); (Hoffmannina peruensis); (Crotiscus brennani)
  • nematodes (Pterygodermatites hymanae)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Due to their human-inaccessible habitat, there has been very little study of these animals. Likewise, there has been very little interaction between human and shrew opossum populations. They may, however, serve as a control of insect populations. (Kirsch and Waller, 1979)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known negative effects of Incan shrew opossums on human populations.

Conservation Status

Incan shrew opossums are currently plentiful in protected areas and are listed as a species of least concern on the IUCN Red List of threatened species. (Patterson and Solari, 2008)


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

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


active at dawn and dusk


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.


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.


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).


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

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


Living on the ground.


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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Barkley, L., J. Whitaker. 1984. Confirmation of Caenolestes in Peru with information on diet. Journal of Mammalogy, 65:2: 328-330.

Fain, A. 1994. Adaptation, specificity and host-parasite coevolution in mites (Acari). International Journal for Parasitology, 24:8: 1273-1283.

Hume, I. 1982. Digestive Physiology and Nutrition of Marsupials. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jimenez, A., B. Patterson. 2012. A new species of Pterygodermatites (Nematoda:Rictulariidae) from the Incan shrew opossum, Lestoros inca. Journal of Parasitology, 98:3: 604-607.

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Lee, A., A. Cockburn. 1985. Evolutionary Ecology of Marsupials. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lee, G. 1982. A new species of Sasacarus (Acari:Trombiculidae) from an Incan 'rat' opossum (Marsupialia:Caenolestidae) in Peru. Journal of Medical Entomology, 19:1: 60-62.

Lee, G. 1987. The genera Hoffmannina peruensis and Crotiscus brennani. Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 80:6: 809-813.

Lucherini, M., J. Reppucci, R. Walker, M. Villalba, A. Wurstten, G. Gallardo, A. Iriarte, R. Villalobos, P. Perovic. 2009. Activity pattern segregation of carnivores in the high Andes. Journal of Mammalogy, 90:6: 1404-1409.

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Myers, P., J. Patton. 2008. Genus Lestoros. Pp. 124-126 in A Gardner, ed. Mammals of South America: Volume 1- Marsupials, Xenarthrans, Shrews, and Bats, Vol. 1. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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Patterson, B., S. Solari. 2008. "Lestoros inca" (On-line). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed April 23, 2013 at www.iucnredlist.org.

Timm, R., B. Patterson. 2008. Genus Caenolestes. Pp. 120-124 in A Gardner, ed. Mammals of South America: Volume 1- Marsupials, Xenarthrans, Shrews, and Bats, Vol. 1. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Tirira, D. 2007. Mamiferos del Ecuador: Guia de Campo. Ecuador: Edicones Murcielago Blanco.

Tyndale-Biscoe, H., M. Renfree. 1987. Reproductive Physiology of Marsupials. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

VanZolini, P., L. Guimaraes. 1955. South American land mammals and their lice. Evolution, 9:3: 345-347.

Vaughan, T., J. Ryan, N. Czaplewski. 2011. Mammalogy. Sudbury, Massachusetts: Jones and Bartlett Publishing.