Zoológico de São Paulo recently became home to a pair of Bare-tailed Woolly Opossum joeys. The siblings were orphaned when their mother was attacked and killed, in their forest, by a domestic dog. The joeys were found, unharmed, clinging to their mother’s body.
Zoo technicians have been hand-rearing the brother and sister. Initially they required milk, but they have now progressed to solids and are now feeding themselves pureed fruit with insects.
The Bare-tailed Woolly Opossum (Caluromys philander), also called the White-eared Opossum, is a species from South America. Its range includes Bolivia, Brazil, French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela. It is a species restricted only to moist forests.
Like other members of the genus Caluromys, the Bare-tailed Woolly Opossum is a strongly arboreal species of marsupial, differing from other didelphid opossums in having a comparatively large encephalization quotient and smaller litter size. Its name comes from its naked, prehensile tail.
It feeds on fruits, nectar, invertebrates and small vertebrates. Bare-tailed Woolly Opossums actively climb through the upper canopy of trees as they look for fruit and insects.
As a marsupial, the opossum has a reproductive system including a divided uterus and marsupium, which is the pouch. The average estrous cycle of the opossum is about 28 days. Opossums do possess a placenta, but it is short-lived, simple in structure, and, unlike that of placental mammals, is not fully functional. The young are therefore born at a very early stage, although the gestation period is similar to many other small marsupials, at only 12 to 14 days. Once born, the offspring must find their way into the marsupium to hold on to and nurse from a teat.
Female opossums often give birth to very large numbers of young, most of which fail to attach to a teat, although as many as thirteen young can attach. The young are weaned between 70 and 125 days, when they detach from the teat and leave the pouch.
The Bare-tailed Woolly Opossum is currently classified as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Habitat loss is the main threat to the species.
Keepers at Zoológico de São Paulo would like the public to be aware of the dangers of allowing domestic animals to wander freely in wild areas. They encourage dog owners to be conscious of the threat this practice poses to animals in the wild and to their pets.