Wednesday 22 May
Central American woolly opossum (Caluromys derbianus)
What’s the World’s Favourite Species?Find out here.
Central American woolly opossum fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
Central American woolly opossum description
The Central American woolly opossum has a long, slender body, and the woolly coat, for which it is named, exhibits considerable variation, ranging from pale grey to bright reddish-brown (2). The limbs and feet are lighter and the underparts are buff-white to golden-tawny (2). The long tail is only furred for the upper half, with the lower half being naked. The Central American woolly opossum has a rather peculiar face, with a dark stripe extending from the top of the head down to the fleshy portion of the nose, and large, pale pink ears (2) (3).
The Central American woolly opossum is well adapted for clambering through the treetops of its rainforest habitat. The prominent, forward-directed eyes provide the opossum with binocular vision (2), which enables excellent hand-eye coordination and depth perception – important in navigating through the treetops (4). The long prehensile tail gives the opossum both balance and grip (2), and the claws on the forepaws and the opposable thumb allow the opossum to grasp trees and manipulate objects such as food items (4). With its acute vision and nimble fingers, this amazing opossum can even catch flying moths with its forepaws while hanging upside down from a branch by its tail (4).
Like all marsupials, the female Central American woolly opossum has a pouch on the stomach, in which the newly-born young develop. Along with the presence of a pouch on the female, the sexes can be easily told apart by the male’s obvious blue scrotum (4).
- Opossum De Derby.
Central American woolly opossum biology
At home amongst the canopies of rainforest trees, the Central American woolly opossum rarely ever ventures to the ground (4). It feeds upon both plant and animal matter, preferring fruits, but also consuming leaves, seeds, soft vegetables, insects, small vertebrates and possibly also carrion (1) (2).
The Central American woolly opossum's love for fruits of rainforest trees has led to an important relationship between the opossum and its favourite fruit trees, whereby the Central American woolly opossum acts as a seed-disperser. After ingesting the fruits of these trees, the seeds pass through its digestive tract unharmed and are dispersed when the opossum defecates in another location. The opossum’s faeces also act as fertiliser for the seeds (7). This opossum also plays a vital role as a pollinator. It is known to pollinate an understory rainforest tree it frequently visits, known as Mabea occidentalis, and is likely to also pollinate other plants on whose flowers it feeds (8).
The Central American woolly opossum is a very shy creature, only emerging from its daytime shelter in the hollows of trees where it sleeps curled up, to forage under the cover of the dark. Due to its strictly nocturnal habits and enigmatic lifestyle, few observations of its behaviour have been made in the wild (2). In captivity, the Central American woolly opossum sets out on its nightly forage only after dark and returns to its nest before dawn. It is most active during the darkest period of the night (2).
While the Central American woolly opossum reportedly breeds during the dry season (from January to June) in most of Central America, in Nicaragua it is believed to breed year-round (2). The female Central American woolly opossum gives birth to a litter of one to six young, or ‘joeys’, and, as with all marsupials, the joeys are tiny and relatively undeveloped at birth. Yet remarkably, the joey is able to clamber and find its way unaided immediately after birth to one of its mother’s teats in her pouch where it will latch on and suckle. The joey, safe in the warmth and protection of its mother’s well-developed pouch, will suckle and complete development fuelled by the rich milk supply its mother provides (2). Both male and female Central American woolly opossums reach sexual maturity at an age of between seven to nine months (2). While the lifespan of the Central American woolly opossum in the wild is unknown, in captivity it can live up to six years of age (2).Top
Central American woolly opossum range
The Central American woolly opossum is native to South and Central American. Its range extends from southern Mexico south to western Columbia and northern Ecuador (2).Top
Central American woolly opossum habitat
Rainforest is the favoured habitat for this strictly arboreal animal (5). It has been recorded in both mature and disturbed rainforest (5), from sea level up to 2,600 metres (6). It may also be found in dry forest and even in gardens and plantations (5).Top
Central American woolly opossum status
The Central American woolly opossum is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).Top
Central American woolly opossum threats
While the Central American woolly opossum is not currently threatened with extinction, as it has an extensive range and is common in a number of countries, population numbers in Mexico and Ecuador are declining (1). This is believed to be due to the loss of its forest habitat (1).
In the past, the Central American woolly opossum was trapped for its fur, but thankfully its fur is no longer in demand (1).Top
Central American woolly opossum conservationTop
This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
- An animal which lives or spends a large amount of time in trees.
- The flesh of a dead animal.
- A diverse group of mammals characterised by their reproduction, in which gestation is very short, and the female typically has a pouch (marsupium) in which the young are raised. When born, the tiny young crawls to the mother’s teats, where it attaches and stays for a variable amount of time, whilst it continues to develop. Marsupials also differ from placental mammals in their dentition.
- Active at night.
- Referring to a digit (thumb or toe) that can be turned so that its pad makes contact with the pad of each of the other digits on the same limb.
- An animal that in the act of visiting a plant’s flowers transfers pollen grains from the stamen (male part of a flower) to the stigma (female part of a flower) of a flowering plant. This usually leads to fertilisation, the development of seeds and, eventually, a new plant.
- Capable of grasping.
- Animals with a backbone, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.
IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
- Bucher, J. and Hoffmann, R. (1980) Caluromys derbianus. Mammalian Species, 140: 1-4.
- Reid, F.A. (2009) A Field Guide to the Mammals of Central America and Southeast Mexico. Second Edition. Oxford University Press, New York.
- Rasmussen, D.T. (1990) Primate origins: lessons from a Neotropical marsupial. American Journal of Primatology, 22: 263-277.
- Emmons, L.H. and Feer, F. (1997) Neotropical Rainforest Mammals: A Field Guide. Second Edition. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
- Alberico, M., Cadena, A., Hernández-Camacho, J. and Muñoz-Saba, Y. (2000) Mamíferos (Synapsida: Theria) de Colombia. Biota Colombiana, 1(1): 43-75.
Vozzo, J.A. (2002) Tropical Tree Seed Manual. United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Washington, D.C. Available at:
- Steiner, K.E. (1981) Nectarivory and potential pollination by a Neotropical marsupial. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 68(4): 505-513.
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.