Caluromys derbianusCentral American woolly opossum

Geographic Range

The distribution of Central American woolly opossums, or Derby’s opossums (Caluromys derbianus), range from Veracruz in southeastern Mexico, eastern Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama and west of the Andes in Colombia and Ecuador. Currently, this species has six recognized subspecies including Caluromys derbianus aztecus, C. d. centralis, C. d. derbianus, C. d. fervidus, C. d. nauticus and C. d. pallidus. Each subspecies is defined by its own range within the larger C. derbianus range. (Allen, 2007; Bucher and Hoffman, 1980; Emmons and Feer, 1997; Lew, et al., 2008)


Central American woolly opossums are found in both primary and disturbed tropical humid forests, evergreen rainforests, dry forests, gardens and plantations up to 2,500 m in elevation. These animals are found most frequently within vine tangles and tall trees at the forest’s edge. (Allen, 2007; Emmons and Feer, 1997; Reid, 2009)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 2500 m
    0.00 to 8202.10 ft

Physical Description

Central American woolly opossums are medium-sized, with a head and body length of 225 to 300 mm, a tail length of 384 to 445 mm and weigh 245 to 370 g. They have long, thick, soft, woolly hair that is lightly frosted reddish brown on the dorsum and yellowish white on the venter. They have a pale gray patch between their shoulders and on their hips. Their entire head is pale gray, with a dark brown stripe down the center of their face, merging with the brown rings around their eyes. Their ears are naked and whitish or pink. Their forelimbs are creamy white, while their hind feet are brown with an opposable hallux. The dorsal portion of their tail is furred 30 to 50% from the base with hair darker than their body; the ventral portion is furred up to 25% from the base. The remainder of their tail is naked and partially mottled by dark pigment. Females have fully developed pouches only when carrying young. In some regions of Central America, individuals are completely gray with a brownish tinge across their shoulders and lower back. (Bucher and Hoffman, 1980; Emmons and Feer, 1997)

Central American woolly opossums can be differentiated from sympatric opossum species by their half-furred tail. They also lack the distinct spots above their eyes found on brown and gray four-eyed opossums. Their larger size also differentiates them from Alstons woolly mouse opossums. They differ from other species in their genus due to their large body size and the minimal fur on their tail. Central American woolly opossums are the largest members of their genus and their tails are only furred 30 to 50% from the base on their dorsal side. Other members of genus Caluromys have fur 50 to 75% from the base of their tail. (Bucher and Hoffman, 1980; Emmons and Feer, 1997)

  • Range mass
    245 to 370 g
    8.63 to 13.04 oz
  • Range length
    225 to 300 mm
    8.86 to 11.81 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    1.194 W


Very little has been reported on the specific mating habits of Central American woolly opossums, although they are known to engage in chase behaviors prior to mating. Members of family Didelphidae are generally considered polygynous. Males compete for reproductive females, communicating with a series of clicking noises. Didelphids generally show neither courtship displays nor pair bonds. (Bucher and Hoffman, 1980; Fernandes, et al., 2010; O'Connell, 2006)

In captivity, Central American woolly opossums have an estrus cycle of 16 to 39 days and females cycle throughout the year, although members of their genus tend to have only 2 litters per year. Breeding most likely occurs year-round, as pregnant females, pouch young and individuals less than one year of age have been captured throughout the year in western Nicaragua. However, breeding may be more concentrated during the dry season, from January to June, to allow for greater food availability when the young are weaning and become independent. Individuals born during times of low food availability may have higher mortality rates, particularly those in secondary forests. Compared to other didelphids, the gestation period for members of genus Caluromys is relatively long at about 21 days, as compared to the average 13 day gestation period among other didelphids. The size of each litter ranges between 2 to 6 young, with an average of 3.3 young. Although neonate data is not available for Central American woolly opossums, their close relatives, bare-tailed woolly opossums, are about 10 mm long at birth. Pouch young are 19 to 74 mm in length, those smaller than 33 mm are naked with under-developed hind limbs and toes. Individuals reach sexual maturity at the age of 7 to 9 months. (Atramentowicz, 1995; Bucher and Fritz, 1977; Bucher and Hoffman, 1980; Collins, 1973; Douglass and Van Tienhoven, 1993; Julien-Laferriere and Atramentowicz, 1990; Phillips and Jones Jr, 1968; Saunders and Hinds, 1997)

  • Breeding interval
    Central American woolly opossums may breed frequently.
  • Breeding season
    Central American woolly opossums most likely breed year-round, particularly during the dry season, from January to June.
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 6
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    21 days
  • Average weaning age
    120 days
  • Average time to independence
    120 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    7 to 9 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    7 to 9 months

Members of genus Caluromys stand out among other didelphids due to their relatively long gestation and nursing periods and relatively small litters. Very little information is available specific to Central American woolly opossums, however, their close relatives, bare-tailed woolly opossums (Caluromys philander), have been studied extensively and are likely to share similar parental behavior. Bare-tailed woolly opossums remained attached to their mother’s mammae for the first 80 days of their life, at which time they begin exiting the pouch but continue nursing for several additional weeks. When these animals are between 80 and 120 days old, they may accompany their mother during her nightly foraging trips by riding on her back, or they may remain in the nest. By the time young are 120 days old, they are independent. This is a notably longer maturation period than other didelphids, for instance, gray four-eyed opossums fully wean their offspring within 75 days of their birth. (Atramentowicz, 1995; Bucher and Hoffman, 1980; Douglass and Van Tienhoven, 1993; Julien-Laferriere and Atramentowicz, 1990; Rasmussen, 1990; Saunders and Hinds, 1997)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • female parental care
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


Members of genus Caluromys are relatively long lived for didelphids, living up to 76 months. One individual was captured and lived 5 years and three months in captivity at the New York Zoological Park. (Allen, 2007; Collins, 1973; Rasmussen, 1990; Walker, et al., 1975)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    76 months
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    8.7 years


Central American woolly opossums are nocturnal; they are sluggish during the day, if active at all. However, several island populations are reportedly diurnal. These animals construct nests made of leaves in vine tangles, tree holes and occasionally on the ground; they may coil their prehensile tails to help carry nest materials. They use their forepaws for eating and grooming their faces. These opossums sleep in a curled position; females have been noted as being more sedentary than their male counterparts. They are arboreal and are rarely found on the ground. Central American woolly opossums are very adept climbers and are much more agile than many other didelphid species. Interestingly, members of genus Caluromys have a similar basal metabolic rate as placental mammals of a similar size, unlike most other marsupials. These animals can run rather quickly and balance easily on vines and telephone wires. Central American woolly opossums are likely solitary, as individuals are oftentimes sighted alone. (Allen, 2007; Bucher and Fritz, 1977; Bucher and Hoffman, 1980; Hall and Dalquest, 1963; Hunsaker, 1977; Rasmussen, 1990; Reid, 2009)

Home Range

Central American woolly opossums are thought to keep extremely small home ranges, Bucher and Hoffman (1980) suggested that their home range size is no more than a couple of nearby trees, although the home range size of the closely related bare-tailed woolly opossums has been estimated at 2.5 to 7.0 hectares. Up to 13.4 Central American woolly opossums may live within a single km2. (Arita, et al., 1990; Bucher and Hoffman, 1980; Lira, et al., 2007)

Communication and Perception

As compared to other members of family Didelphidae, members of genus Caluromys have the largest brain size. As a nocturnal species, Central American woolly opossums are sensitive to light. Due to the prominence and frontal orientation of their large eyes, these animals are believed to have extremely acute vision. When they perceive a threat, these animals may bare their teeth and hiss. Although they are not vocal animals, Central American woolly opossums may squeal when they sense danger. These animals have also been observed tightly coiling their tails, this is likely a sign of submission, or stress. (Bucher and Hoffman, 1980; Collins, 1973; Delciellos and Vieira, 2009; Hunsaker, 1977; Rasmussen, 1990)

Food Habits

Central American woolly opossums are omnivores that eat many insects as well as other small invertebrates, fruits, seeds, leaves, small vertebrates, flower parts, nectar and possibly carrion. Their diet may shift seasonally based on food availability. During the dry season, these animals consume nectar from balsa trees, mabea and aro blanco plants. (Allen, 2007; Lew, et al., 2008; Reid, 2009)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • fruit
  • nectar
  • flowers


Central American woolly opossums are preyed upon by ocelots. Their close relatives, bare-tailed woolly opossums, are also preyed upon by margays and jaguarundis, who likely also consume Central American woolly opossums. (Bianchi, et al., 2011; Moreno, et al., 2006)

Ecosystem Roles

Central American woolly opossums help pollinate flowers due to their feeding habits. Species in genus Caluromys also host many external and internal parasites including ticks, botfly larvae, tongue worms, acanthocephalid worms, tapeworms, roundworms, protozoa and flukes. (Collins, 1973; Reid, 2009)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • pollinates
Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • hard ticks: Amblyomma
  • botflies: Cuterebra
  • botflies: Rhopalias
  • tongue worms: Porocephalus
  • Acanthocephalid worms: Gigantorhynchus
  • Acanthocephalid worms: Hamanniella
  • nematodes (roundworms): Physaloptera
  • nematodes (roundworms): Rictularia
  • nematodes (roundworms): Subulura
  • nematodes (roundworms): Turgida
  • protozoa: Besnoitia
  • protozoa: Eimeria
  • protozoa: Trapanosoma
  • trematodes (flukes): Evandrocotyle
  • trematodes (flukes): Schistosoma
  • cestodes (tapeworms): Oochoristica

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Central American woolly opossums were once hunted by humans for their fur, but there is no longer a demand for the trade. (Emmons and Feer, 1997)

  • Positive Impacts
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known negative impacts of Central American woolly opossums on humans.

Conservation Status

According to the IUCN Red List, Central American woolly opossums are a species of least concern because of their widespread range, presumed large population, tolerance of various habitats and the lack of direct threats to known populations. This species can also be found in many protected areas throughout their range, although deforestation has decreased several populations in Mexico and Ecuador. (Lew, et al., 2008)


Rachel Cable (author), Animal Diversity Web Staff, 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


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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


having more than one female as a mate at one time


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.


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.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year


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