Philander andersoniblack four-eyed opossum

Geographic Range

The range of Philander andersoni, Anderson's four-eyed opossum, extends from southcentral Venezuela and the northwestern Amazon basin in Brazil, through southern Colombia, to the eastern foothills of the Andes in Ecuador and northern Peru. (Patton and Astua de Moraes, 2008; Patton and da Silva, 1997; Patton and da Silva, 2007)


Philander andersoni occupies primary and secondary lowland forests within its range, as well as gallery forests along wetland and riparian areas. Much like other species in the genus Philander, P. andersoni is mostly terrestrial, but has been known to climb into trees. Individuals of P. andersoni prefer dense vegetation, but can be found, though not frequently, in areas of high human disturbance, such as agricultural lands. In Ecuador, P. andersoni can be found between 200 and 1600 m above sea level, but it is most often found below 600 m of elevation. (Medellín, 2004; Patton and da Silva, 2007; Tirira, 2007)

  • Range elevation
    200 to 1600 m
    656.17 to 5249.34 ft

Physical Description

Like all species of the genus Philander, this species has lighter spots above the eyes, giving the appearance of “four eyes.” It also has a slim body and a relatively large head with a long, conical-shaped muzzle. All species in this genus also have slim, partially furred prehensile tails that are equal to or longer than the body length. Individuals have opposable pollex on the forefeet and opposable hallux on the hindfeet. Females have fully developed pouches. (Hershkovitz, 1997; Nowak, 2005)

Philander andersoni is a large opossum with body length 250-350 mm, tail length 250-350 mm, and mass 240-600 g. Males are slightly larger than females. Philander andersoni has short gray hair on its sides and a band of short black hair approximately 3-4 cm wide that runs dorsally from the head to the base of the tail. This dorsal band aids in distinguishing P. andersoni from other South American species in its genus. The venter, cheek spots, and eye spots of P. andersoni are cream to creamy gray. Its tail is covered in hair from the base to approximately 18% its length, and the remainder of the tail is bare. Approximately half the tail is colored brown or black and the remainder is not pigmented. The ears are black, oftentimes with a cream dot at the base of the pinna. (Hershkovitz, 1997; Patton and da Silva, 1997; Patton and da Silva, 2007; Tirira, 2007)

Although P. andersoni is similar in appearance to Metachirus nudicaudatus, P. andersoni females have fully developed pouches, while M. nudicaudatus females do not. Also, the entire tail of M. nudicaudatus is bare. (Patton and da Silva, 2007; Tirira, 2007)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    240 to 600 g
    8.46 to 21.15 oz
  • Range length
    250 to 350 mm
    9.84 to 13.78 in


One study of the number of Philander andersoni females with young at Jenaro Herrara, Peru found that females tend to reproduce in the wet season (January - March), when fruit production by local plants is high. (Fleck and Harder, 1995)

Little else is known about the reproductive behavior of P. andersoni, but this species was once classified under Philander opossum, which has been studied more extensively. Philander opossum females can have up to three litters in one year, each ranging between 1-7 young and averaging 3.4-4.24 young. Philander opossum individuals weigh approximately 9 g at birth and 50-75 g at weaning. The period between litters averages 90 days, and the ovarian cycle is interrupted by lactation, but not gestation. Weaning occurs at day 76 after birth, on average. Female P. opossum reach sexual maturity at 5-8 months in the wild and 15 months in captivity. (D'Andrea, et al., 1994; Hershkovitz, 1997; Nowak, 2005)

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • viviparous

Few studies have been performed on P. andersoni parental investment, Philander opossum young stay in the nest 8-15 days post-weaning, and after this period the female is indifferent or aggressive to her young. (Hershkovitz, 1997)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


Little is known about the lifespan of P. andersoni, but the average lifespan of Philander opossum is 2.5 years in the wild and 3.5 years in captivity. (Hershkovitz, 1997)


Typical of the Philander genus, Philander andersoni is a solitary, nocturnal species, and individuals spend most of their time on the ground. In fact, when captured individuals were released at two rainforest sites in Peru, most chose terrestrial escape routes over arboreal escape routes. (Fleck and Harder, 1995; Medellín, 2004; Patton and da Silva, 2007)

Species of the genus Philander act aggressively when threatened, and will open their mouths, hiss, and fight in response to threats. Little is known about nest building in this species, but a closely related species, Philander opossum, builds its nests on the ground, in burrows, or in low branches. (Hershkovitz, 1997; Nowak, 2005)

Home Range

Little information is known about the home range sizes of P. andersoni, but P. opossum individuals are non-territorial, have home ranges that overlap, and 137-191 P. opossum can be found in one km^2. Philander opossum individuals also migrate and will stay in one area for less than a year. (Hershkovitz, 1997)

Communication and Perception

Although little is known about P. andersoni communication and perception, it is known that the closely related P. opossum uses at least three sounds to communicate: a clicking sound, a hiss when threatened, and a squeak, which may be used as a mating call by females. The eyes, ears, nasal turbinates (thin bones that support olfactory epithelium), and tactile hairs are well developed in this species (as in other opossums), so vision, hearing, and touch are probably important senses. Which of these senses is actually used for communication is unknown. (Hershkovitz, 1997)

Food Habits

Philander andersoni individuals are omnivorous. They will eat insects, other small invertebrates, eggs, and fruits. (Medellín, 2004; Tirira, 2007)

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


There are no known predators of P. andersoni, but, like the closely related Philander opossum, it is most likely preyed upon by wild felids, wild mustelids, foxes, large owls, and large snakes. In fact, remains of P. opossum have been found in the feces of the viper Bothrops asper. Opossums of the species P. opossum are also occasionally consumed by humans in Guyana, and P. andersoni could also be a food source for humans. (Hershkovitz, 1997; Voss, 2013)

Ecosystem Roles

Species in the genus Philander have been known to host many endoparasites including viruses, protozoans, fungi, roundworms (Nematoda), flukes (Trematoda), and tapeworms (Cestoda) and ectoparasites including lice (Mallophaga), fleas (Siphonaptera), mites, ticks, and chiggers (Acarina). Philander species are also a known reservoir for Trapanosoma cruzi, which causes trypanosomiasis in humans and animals. (Hershkovitz, 1997)

In addition, since Philander species consume fruits, are mostly terrestrial, and move often, they are potential dispersers of seeds. One study by Medellin (1994) did find that the closely related Philander opossum does disperse seeds of Cecropia obtusifolia, a tree species important in succession of forests, into adequate germination sites such as light gaps, which other arboreal frugivores do not reach. (Medellín, 1994)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Nematoda
  • Trematoda
  • Cestoda
  • Mallophaga
  • Siphonaptera
  • Acarina
  • Trapanosoma cruzi

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

It is unlikely that this species is of any positive economic importance for humans.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Philander andersoni is unlikely to have a negative economic impact, but Philander species are a known reservoir for Trapanosoma cruzi, which causes trypanosomiasis in humans and animals. (Hershkovitz, 1997)

Conservation Status

Philander andersoni is listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN Red List because it has a wide distribution, and thus an expected large population, and its distribution encompasses many protected areas. (Patton and Astua de Moraes, 2008)

Other Comments

All species in the genus Philander were long considered subspecies of Philander opossum, including Philander andersoni. Thus, current species-specific research on P. andersoni focuses on morphological and genetic differences between this species and the others in its genus, and most older information is classified under P. opposum. Little information currently exists that differentiates P. andersoni from P. opossum in behavior, reproduction, feeding habits, and habitat selection. (Patton and da Silva, 1997; Tirira, 2007)


Rachel Cable (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


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.


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.


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.


active during the night


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


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.


D'Andrea, P., R. Cerqueira, E. Hingst. 1994. Age estimation of the Gray Four Eyed Opossum, Philander opossum. Mammalia, 58/2: 283-291.

Fleck, D., J. Harder. 1995. Ecology of Marsupials in Two Amazonian Rain Forests in Northeastern Peru. Journal of Mammalogy, 75/3: 809-818.

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

Medellín, R. 2004. Didelphimorphia (New World Opossums). Pp. 249-265 in M Hutchins, ed. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Vol. 12, 2nd Edition. Detroit: Gale Virtual Reference Library. Accessed April 04, 2013 at id=GALE%7CCX3406700770&v=2.1&u=umuser&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w.

Medellín, R. 1994. Seed Dispersal of Cecropia obtusifolia by Two Species of Opossums in the Selva Lacandona, Chiapas, Mexico. Biotropica, 26/4: 400-407.

Nowak, R. 2005. Walker's Marsupials of the World. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Patton, J., D. Astua de Moraes. 2008. "Philander andersoni" (On-line). IUCN 2012: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed April 01, 2013 at

Patton, J., M. da Silva. 1997. Definition of species of pouched four-eyed opossums (Didelphidae, Philander). Journal of Mammalogy, 78/1: 90-102.

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

Tirira, D. 2007. Guía de campo de los mamíferos del Ecuador. Quito, Ecuador: Muciélago Blanco.

Voss, R. 2013. Opossums (Mammalia: Didelphidae) in the diets of Neotropical pitvipers (Serpentes: Crotalinae): Evidence for alternative coevolutionary outcomes?. Toxicon, 66: 1-6.