Patagonian opossum (Lestodelphys halli)

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Patagonian opossum fact file

Patagonian opossum description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderDidelphimorphia
FamilyDidelphidae
GenusLestodelphys (1)

Not only is the Patagonian opossum the only member of its genus, it is also the most southerly occurring marsupial in the world (3) (4). As an adaptation to life in a cold climate, its fur is short and fine, yet extremely dense, insulating the Patagonian opossum against the harsh prevailing conditions (4) (5). The relatively short tail, which may become swollen with fat, is also covered in a dense fur of short fine hairs (3) (6). This peculiar species is more adapted to a terrestrial and carnivorous lifestyle than other opossums in South America, with long canines, a short, broad muzzle, strong, robust legs and elongated claws (3) (4). The upperparts are dark greyish-brown, with black eye rings and white cheek patches, and the underparts and legs are whitish (3) (5). Like other opossums, this species has well developed eyesight as well as long, touch sensitive whiskers and acute hearing. When threatened, it will warn the intruder of its aggressive nature by curling back its lips and opening the mouth to reveal rows of sharp teeth (6).

French
Opossum De Patagonie.
Spanish
Comadrejita Patagónica.
Size
Head-body length: 13.2 – 14.1 cm (2)
Tail length: 7.4 – 9.9 cm (2)
Weight
c. 76 g (3)
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Patagonian opossum biology

Inhabiting remote and often inhospitable areas, the Patagonian opossum is perhaps the least known opossum in the Americas, with virtually nothing known about its biology (3) (7). However, from the few studies of the species, and from the structure of its skull, feet and teeth, it is known to have a predominantly carnivorous diet, feeding upon mice, small birds and beetles of the family Tenebrionidae. This behaviour most likely evolved in response to the seasonal lack of insects and fruit in its barren habitat (3) (8). The Patagonian opossum is also thought to hibernate during winter, using the fat stores in its swollen tail as an energy reserve during this period (4) (5).

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Patagonian opossum range

The Patagonian opossum is only found in southern and central Argentina, where it ranges from the province of Mendoza in the north, southwards to Santa Cruz and east to central Patagonia (1) (4) (7).

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Patagonian opossum habitat

The Patagonian opossum inhabits treeless grasslands and shrublands on the Patagonian steppe (1) (7).

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Patagonian opossum status

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Patagonian opossum threats

Due to its wide range, presumed large population, and the absence of any significant threats, the Patagonian opossum is not currently considered at risk of extinction (1). However, the Patagonian steppe is a unique, fragile environment vulnerable to disturbance and some opossum populations are threatened by agriculture and livestock encroaching upon grassland habitat (1) (9). Overgrazing by sheep is a particularly severe problem as the sheep reduce the cover of natural plants and expose the soil to erosion, leading to desertification, while grasslands may be burned to create space for farmland (9) (10).

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Patagonian opossum conservation

While the Patagonian opossum is not the target of any known conservation efforts, there are a number of reserves within its range (1). The Conservation Land Trust is helping to protect one such area at El Rincón and hope to integrate it into the existing Perito Moreno National Park, while the Wildlife Conservation Society is working with local people to reduce the impact of livestock grazing upon natural habitats (10) (11). The Patagonian opossum will also benefit from recommended further surveys aiming to determine the full extent of its distribution (1).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

To find out about the conservation of the Patagonian steppe, see:

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Authentication

Authenticated (19/10/2010) by Dr. Gabriel M. Martin, CONICET y Laboratorio de Investigaciones en Evolución y Biodiversidad (L.I.E.B.), Facultad de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia S.J.B., Argentina.

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Glossary

Carnivorous
Feeding on flesh.
Genus
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
Marsupial
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.
Patagonian steppe
A cold desert scrub region of southern Argentina and Chile, bordered on the west by the cold temperate forest slopes of the Andes, and in the east by the Pacific Ocean. Vegetation types in this region include shrub-steppe (arid grassland with scattered shrubs), grassland and semi-desert.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Martin, G.M. 2008. Sistemática, distribución y adaptaciones de los marsupiales patagónicos. Ph.D. Thesis, Universidad Nacional de La Plata
  3. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
  4. Marshall, L.G. (1977) Lestodelphys halli. Mammalian Species, 81: 1-3.
  5. Gardner, A.L. (2008) Mammals of South America. Volume 1: Marsupials, Xenarthrans, Shrews, and Bats. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  6. Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  7. Sauthier, D.E.U., Carrera, M. and Pardiñas, U.F.J. (2007) Mammalia, Marsupialia, Didelphidae, Lestodelphys halli: new records, distribution extension and filling gaps. Checklist 2007, 3: 137-140.
  8. Martin, G.M. (2005) Intraspecific variation in Lestodelphys halli (Marsupialia, Didelphimorphia). Journal of Mammology, 86: 793-802.
  9. WWF Ecoregion Profile (July, 2010)
    http://www.worldwildlife.org/wildworld/profiles/terrestrial/nt/nt0805_full.html
  10. Conservation Land Trust (July, 2010)
    http://www.theconservationlandtrust.org/eng/pa_elrincon.htm
  11. Wildlife Conservation Society (July, 2010)
    http://www.wcs.org/saving-wild-places/latin-america-and-the-caribbean/patagonia-and-southern-andean-steppe-argentina.aspx
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Image credit

Patagonian opossum portrait  
Patagonian opossum portrait

© Darío Podestá

Darío Podestá
http://www.dariopodesta.com/

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