Here in the United States, we don’t generally think that opossums are all that cute. Granted, we love them because they get rid of all those nasty bugs, but they aren’t exactly adorable. Turns out, that’s not the case for the opossum’s Costa Rican cousins at all.
Costa Rica is host to an astonishing number of mammals but surely the most adorable among them are members of the opossum family, the Didelphidae. And they are quite well represented throughout Latin America, with some 55 species, Encyclopaedia Britannica reports. But while the tiniest members of this family — the mouse opossums — do indeed resemble mice, as their family indicates they are actually marsupials.
And mouse opossums are going to be the subjects of my column this week. They have cornered the market on adorable, with little black masks, enormous round eyes, and delicate fingers and toes.
For starters, here’s the Mexican mouse opossum:
The Mexican mouse opossum (Marmosa mexicana) is a tiny dynamo with large mouse-like ears, those large dark eyes, corresponding mask, and a long prehensile tail that it uses like it’s North American cousin, the Virginia opossum, to hang from trees. This is a handy adaptation when one’s favorite foods include insects, fruits, and bird’s eggs (and the occasional bird).
We know precious little about these tiny opossums, which unlike most other marsupials, lack a marsupium (or pouch). Most experts think that they also augment their mostly fruit-based diet with small vertebrates, and occasionally, carrion. Their fur ranges from a luxurious reddish color on the back to yellow or vaguely orange in the front.
They truly are a beautiful little mammal.
The Mexican mouse opossum is common but secretive
You can find this tiny and mostly nocturnal creature at all levels of the forest. These little guys hang out from the tree canopy to the understory, but almost never make their way to the forest floor.
This tiny creature has to be on the lookout for the barn owl and the wood owl (also called the mottled owl). It’s also likely a favorite snack for snakes and Costa Rica’s wild cats (like the Margay possibly). Weighing less than four ounces and measuring less than seven inches (including the tail), this little opossum probably makes a handy snack item for many creatures.
And now introducing Alston’s mouse opossum:
Like its Mexican counterpart, Alston’s mouse opossum (M. alstoni), you can also find them in lowland forests. Mainly, though, you can find these guys along the Caribbean coast from Belize to Panama and into Colombia, Animal Facts reports.
The Alston’s mouse opossum is one of the larger species of mouse opossum’s but it’s still not huge. It can weigh up to 5.3 ounces and measures up to 7.9 inches long. Its fur is also lovely, ranging from yellow-brown on the back and paler in the front.
Mouse opossums are nocturnal
Like it’s counterpart the Alston’s also feeds on fruit, insects, small vertebrates and eggs. Unlike its counterpart, the Alston’s sometimes prowls around on the ground. Both species have adorable tiny hands (the better to grab you with, my dear) and the Alston’s tucks into its food by gripping it firmly and biting it all over. Then the animal consumes the prey head-first and discards the insect legs and wings.
And you thought you were hungry.
See how perfect these little hands are?
Mouse opossums have a notoriously short gestation period — usually about two weeks. The young are altricial (born under-developed) like kangaroos, you see. In some species of mouse opossum, the young cling to the mother’s back for the first month. Perhaps impressively, for such a tiny animal, litters can be quite large, with as many as 15 young born at a time.
Mouse opossums are among Costa Rica’s most fascinating creatures, and if you’re lucky, you might get a glimpse of one on a nighttime tour of the forest. My husband was very lucky and got to experience this one night — a little Mexican mouse opossum climbed right out on a branch to check him out.
That’s one of the most wonderful things about Costa Rica. This tiny country is full of amazing wildlife surprises.
Featured image by Andres Espinoza F. via Nature Costa Rica/Facebook