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Costa Rica Wildlife: Meet the Common Opossum

They’re ugly but they’re still an important member of our tropical ecosystem.

The common opossum is one of a handful of opossum species in Costa Rica and for me, the least attractive. To bring a picture of a Costa Rican common opossum to mind, picture whatever opossum raids the trashcans in your neighborhood, but add skanky alley cat fur and a toothy, giant rat face.

Homely or not, the common opossum plays an important role in the ecology of the country’s varied landscapes. First, the common opossum, as the name would leave you to believe, is common.

They live all over the country and though the literature says their home ranges can be up to 300 acres, it feels like they’re more packed into the landscape than that. Second, they’re an important member of the food web. That is, they eat a wide variety of vegetation and small animals, and they get eaten by a wide variety of larger animals.

These two factors together add up to a lot of opossum videos on my camera traps. They can be one of most frequently recorded animals in my projects. I have reviewed hundreds of videos of them running around in front of the camera looking for food and busily doing other opossum things night after night after night.

What kind of ‘opossum things’ have I recorded you ask? Well here’s a few – an opossum eating a huge snake (non-poisonous), an opossum almost getting bitten by a big poisonous snake, an opossum eating a frog, an opossum eating some hermit crabs, an opossum getting eaten by an ocelot (rough), an opossum eating a dead sea turtle (neat/gross), an opossum scaring another opossum that was getting a drink (hilarious) and a female opossum walking around with like 7 babies on her back like some kind of living school bus.

Common opossums are famously marsupials. Their distinctive characteristic is that they carry their young in pouches. If you look closely, occasionally you can see evidence of the female opossum’s secret cargo in camera trap videos.

Females will stroll by the camera with a pouch so full of babies that you’ll be able to see a little leg or tail popping out. Once the babies get so big that they have to move out, they don’t move far. They’ll climb right up on the female’s back to get carried, school bus style, to-and-fro.

To wrap things up, the common opossum lives all over the country and is, in fact, common. It also eats a lot of different things and gets eaten by a lot of different things, making it an important strand in the forest’s web of life.

And it’s ugly. Enjoy the video.

About the Author

Vincent Losasso, founder of Guanacaste Wildlife Monitoring, is a biologist who works with camera traps throughout Costa Rica. Learn more about his projects on facebook or instagram. You can also email him at: vincent@guanacastewildlifemonitoring.com

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