Animal of the Issue: Mouse Opossum

The Mouse Opossum seen by the tropical ecosystems class in Costa Rica. Photo Credit / Zachary Gotthardt
The Mouse Opossum seen by the tropical ecosystems class in Costa Rica. Photo Credit / Zachary Gotthardt

The Mouse Opossum seen by the tropical ecosystems class in Costa Rica.
Photo Credit / Zachary Gotthardt

By Briana Magistro

SC Staff Writer

The genus Mamosa includes a wide variety of tree marsupials called Mouse Opossums. There are many species of Mouse Opossums, and little is known about individual species.

This is due to its shyness and the fact that it is nocturnal. Biologists believe that they have a short lifespan, which contributes to their rareness.

Mouse Opossums are generally found throughout Central and South America, and inhabit dense rainforests.

They dig burrows, find holes in trees, or use bird nests as their den during the daytime. This protects them from predators.

Mouse Opossums tend to stay near the ground, rather than the treetops of the rainforest, which is where their main food source lives.

Their diet includes fruits, insects, and arachnids.

They get their name from their appearance, which is that of a large mouse.

Mouse Opossums are most active in the night, when large daytime predators cannot see them.

However, dense rainforests in the dark of night do not help researchers discover more about these little creatures!

ESU’s tropical ecosystems class, which traveled to Costa Rica during spring break, was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one of the opossums during the day.

“A lot of mammals in the rainforest are same way,” says Zack Gotthardt, a student in the class, about the elusiveness of tropical mammals.

Mouse Opossums are believed to have a very short gestation period, the period of time that the female is pregnant.

A female opossum will carry its young for just about two weeks before giving birth.

Mouse Opossums are marsupials, meaning they carry their young around with them. Typically, marsupials carry their offspring in pouches.

Similar to their North American cousins, Mouse Opossums have their babies hang on them, rather than keeping them in a pouch. Babies are born blind and underdeveloped due to the short gestation period.

It is believed that the short gestation period is caused by the species’ evolutionary need for more offspring.

The life span of the opossum is short, usually about a year. So, if an opossum can have young quickly, the offspring are more likely to survive.

Like monkeys, the Mouse Opossum has a prehensile tail. The prehensile tail is a highly muscular appendage that roots from the tailbones of the animal.

It is quite strong and flexible and can help the animal swing among trees or keep its balance while traveling among tall foliage. The Mouse Opossum can hang upside down on trees.

As more research is conducted throughout the South Americas, discovery of this elusive but fascinating creature becomes more readily available.

Email Briana at:

bmagistro@live.esu.edu

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