MARSUPIALIA Family DIDELPHIDAE
The Didelphidae genera consist of
CALUROMYS (Woolly Opossums)
CHIRONECTES (Water Opossum, or
DIDELPHIS (Large American
LUTREOLINA (Thick-tailed Opossum)
LESTODELPHYS (Patagonian Opossum)
METACHIRUS (Brown "Four-eyed"
MARMOSA (Murine, or Mouse,
PHILANDER (Gray and
Black "Four-eyed" Opossums)
University of Michigan
Species: Philander opossum
Neotropical: Philander opossum
has a range that extends from Northeastern
Mexico to Southeatern Brazil. Within this range,
P. opossom may be found from Brazil’s
Atlantic coast westward into Peru and Argentenia,
as well as throughout Central America. (Nowak
1997, Fonseca 1991, Cerqueira 1993)
Mass: 220 to 680 g.
common name is derived from this opossum’s grey
coat and the single white spots which are
located directly above each eye, providing it
with an appearance of four eyes.
body length is 250-350 mm, and the tail reaches
to about the same length. Males may be slightly
larger than females, although much overlap in
size is present. Females have five to nine
mammae contained within a pouch. The coloration
of the short, straight hair is gray dorsally and
off-white to yellow ventrally. The tail is
furred with the same gray coloration for 50-60
mm from the base. The tip of the tail is naked
and becomes paler in color towards its end.
The ears are naked as well.
Philander opossum has a slender body and a
large head. Its rostrum is fairly long and
narrows at the tip. The tail tapers as well, and
it is prehensile. The hind limbs are longer and
more muscular than the forelimbs. (Vieira 1997,
Nowak 1997, Julien-Laferriere 1990)
1 Food Habits
Philander opossum is omnivorous. About half of
its diet consists of small animals such as
insects, earthworms, birds, lizards, eggs,
frogs, and small mammals. The remainder of the
diet includes leaves, seeds, and fruits such as
papayas and bananas. (Fleck 1995,
Julien-Laferriere 1990, Nowak 1997, Fonseca
populations of this species reproduce
seasonally. During the rainy seasons, fruit is
plentiful and more young may be cared for, while
during the dry seasons, fruit is rare and few
young are born. However, Philander opossum does
reproduce throughout the year, but at lower
levels during the months of June to August.
Reproduction only ceases entirely when the
mother’s nutritional requirements are not met.
Although reproduction occurs year round, success
is low. Death of young within the mother’s pouch
is common, especially during the dry months.
The young nurse in the mother’s pouch, as that
is where the nipples are located. Lactation
lasts approximately 90 days, with much growth
occurring after the weaning period. Following
weaning, young P. opossum increase their
body mass by a factor of ten.
Litter sizes vary from 1 to 7 young with the
average litter containing 4 or 5 young. 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 per birth (about 3.8).
Females become sexually mature at about 6 to 8
months. At this time they weigh over 200 grams.
Life expectancy is one to two years. (Julien-Laferriere
1990, Fleck 1995, D’Andrea 1994, Nowak 1997,
Philander opossum can be found in dense
populations that exhibit low mobility. While
its range may extend as much as 300 meters, over
fifty percent of the movements of this species
occur within 30 meters. Nests may be located on
the ground or in burrows, but the majority of
nests are built in the lower branches of trees,
8 to 10 meters from the ground. They are
globular in nature and have a diameter of
approximately 30 cm. While they usually nest in
trees, much of the activity of these opossums is
terrestrial. Philander opossum uses its more
pronounced hind limbs for scampering and jumping
along the forest floor. After being released
from capture, P. opossum usually uses a
terrestrial escape route rather than climbing
trees. It is proficient at climbing and
Philander opossum is thought to be nocturnal;
however, some researchers have witnessed an
equal amount of activity in the day. When
provoked, P. opossum gives a loud cry or
hiss, and it is capable of savagely fighting.
(Fleck 1995, Julien-Laferriere 1990, Vieira
1997, Cerqueira 1993), Nowak 1997, Adler 1996),
Philander opossum is found mainly in tropical
forested areas, however, they may be found in
the southern portions of South America in which
the habitat is more temperate. In general, P.
opossum resides in areas that receive
greater than 1000 mm of rain per year.
to its proficient swimming ability, P.
opossum may be found on islands.
(Fonseca 1991, Adler 1996)
Biomes: tropical rainforest, tropical deciduous
forest, tropical scrub forest.
Economic Importance for Humans
Philander opossum helps control the populations
of insects and other small vertebrates. (Fonseca
Philander opossum has been known to feed upon
corn fields and fruit crops, damaging farmers
fields. (Nowak 1997)
No special status
ESA: No special status
CITES: No special status
Currently Philander opossum is not thought to be
Adler, GH and JO Saemon. 1996. Distribution of
Four-eyed Opossum, Philander opossum on Small
Islands in Panama. Mammalia 60(1):91-99.
Cerqueira, R, etc. 1993. A Five-year Population
Study of an Assemblance of Small Mammals in
Southeastern Brazil. Mammalia 57(4):507-517.
D’Andrea, PS, R Cerqueira and ED Hingst. 1994.
Age Estimation of the Gray Four-eyed Opossum,
Philander opossum. Mammalia 58(2):283-291.
Fleck, DW and JD Harder. 1995. . Jounal of
Fonseca, SD and R Cerqueira. 1991. Water and
Salt Balance in a South American Marsupial, the
Gray Four-eyed Opossum (Philander opossum).
Gentile, R and R Cerqueira. 1995. Movement
Patterns of Five Species of Small Mammals in a
Brazilian Restinga.. Journal of Tropical Ecology
Julien-Laferriere, D and M Atramentowicz. 1990.
Feeding and Reproduction of Three Didelphid
Marsupials in Two Neotropical Forests (French
Guiana). Biotropica 22(4):404-415.
Nowak, RM. 1997. “Walker’s
Mammals of the World” (On-line), Available at
mammals of the w.../ (December 8, 1999)
Vieira, MV. 1997. Body Size and Form in Two
Neotropical Marsupials. Mammalia 61(2):245-254.
This article is reproduced with many thanks and
acknowledgements to the author, and the
University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web.
Here are a some of examples of
the Didelphis Opossum.
Photos 1. & 2 Unfortunately I have been unable
to find the photographer responsible for these
pictures therefore I am unable to offer
acknowledgements. If he/she sees these and
recognises them I would be grateful if they
would contact me so we can offer our thanks and
Photos 3. & 4. courtesy of Sugarbane see