Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hey, look it’s a rat…

No, that’s not a rat. ....O.K., then it’s a hamster…  No, he’s not a hamster either.  This is Gargamel and he’s a Short Tailed Opossum!   

Short Tailed Opossums, or House Opossums, are very cute South American marsupials with prehensile tails.  They are omnivorous, which means they eat a variety of foods.  Short Tailed Opossums are mainly found in Brazil and the adjoining countries of Bolivia, Paraguay, and Chile.  

As you can see from his picture, the fur is a thick velvety gray-brown on top with a lighter tone underneath.  They are nocturnal marsupials so they are more active at night.  However, unlike most marsupials, the female does not have a pouch.  They are quiet, active, and inquisitive creatures.  An adult Short Tailed Opossum is  about 4" - 6" (10 - 15 cm) in body length with a tail that is about 1 1/2" - 3" (4 - 7.5 cm) and will weigh between 2 - 5 ozs (60 - 150 g). The males are approximately 25% larger than the females.  

The Short Tailed Opossum’s muzzle is quite like a rat with very sharp teeth. The ears are large, very thin-skinned, and sensitive to sound.  Because their eyes bulge out, Short Tailed Opossums have excellent night vision. The front legs are shorter than the hind legs and they can hold things with their front feet.  They have a lifespan of about 4 to 8 years.

My favorite feature of the Short Tailed Opossum is its hairless prehensile tail, which it uses to grasp and balance while climbing.  Th tail is also great for carrying nesting materials and other things.  However, it is not weight bearing, so they can’t actually hang upside down by their tails.  It is so fascinating to watch Gargamel move things around with his tail, especially when he is gathering and moving strips of paper towel around to make a nest.  He will grab the material with his front feet, move it under him to his back feet, and then kick it back to his tail. 

Gargamel enjoying his favorite snace - a nice juicy mealworm

Once they do make a nest and mate, their babies are born prematurely, pink, and hairless. They are helpless, latching on to a nipple on their mother’s stomach where they will stay until they are further developed.  The gestation period is about two weeks and the female will have a litter of up to 13 babies.  Wow! That’s a lot of babies all at once, especially for such a small animal.

In the wild, they eat insects, fruits, and vegetable matter. We provide Gargamel, as well as our female Azriel, a similar diet by offering mealworms, crickets, roaches, fruits, vegetables, and omnivore pellets.  In South American countries, they are nicknamed “House Opossums” and it’s considered lucky if you have one living in your house.  After all, they eat those pesky insects and keep your house free of them.

Opossums are NOT the same thing as possums. Most people don’t even know there is a difference.  "Opossums" range from North America to southern Argentina and contain 15 genera with over 60 species. "Possums" are found in Australia with over 20 species. They are both marsupials, but are actually only distantly related.

Gargamel currently lives off display in our Nature Center, but he is used in many programs and is also one of our Adoptable animals.  If you are interested in adopting him or one of our other animals, simply click on the Donate button on the right-hand side of the screen, make a donation, and in the comments box type in Adopt A Mammal - Gargamel.  His Adoption fee is $50.

Submitted by Liz Schuff, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

1 comment:

Steve said...

Your "rat" is adorable! We just got Olivia, and fed her a scorpion the other day. The video is on her blog at oliviathesto.blogspot.com.