Today we meet the common gray four-eyed opossum (Philander opossum) but prepare yourself for the disappointment of all disappointments, it only has two eyes.
Sometimes animal names can get you psyched up for something that just doesn’t exist. It happens frequently with birds, for example the great horned owl lacks horns and the spectacled owl doesn’t wear glasses. In my opinion, this species of opossum carries the biggest disappointment in Costa Rica’s mammal names (except for the brown four-eyed opossum which suffers from the same affliction).
The common gray four-eyed opossum is indeed mostly gray, so they got that right. The confusion on the number of eyes stems from the two white spots that they have above their eyes on their foreheads. Their actual eyes teamed up with the white spots to give the illusion of four eyes. Their Spanish name, zorro gris de cuatro ojos, gives the same misconception on the number of eyes but en español.
This species of opossum can be found all over Costa Rica. Their range map only excludes the highest of mountain habitats. They tend to be found in the vicinity of water and in evergreen forests which jives with my own experience because I don’t record them frequently with my camera traps in the drier parts of Guanacaste.
They are nocturnal, spending most of the night running around on the ground, foraging for food. They’re generally looking for small creatures to eat like frogs, lizards, rodents, birds, crabs, generally whatever is small and doesn’t run away fast enough. That being said, they’ll happily scarf down bird eggs, ripe fruits and nuts if they present themselves. What I can say for sure is that they eat large rats because I recorded one walking with its prize in its mouth.
Until recently, there were a few ‘opossum things’ that I’ve recorded other opossum species doing that I had never seen four-eyed opossums do. Two of those things are:
1) carrying a bunch of leaves with its prehensile tail
2) walking around with a bunch of juvenile opossums clinging to a female’s back
The first hundred or so four-eyed opossum videos that my camera traps recorded were lacking these behaviors, even though I had seen it frequently with common opossums. Oddly enough, within the span of a few months in a single project I recorded an individual walking around with its little tail wrapped around a bunch of leaves (taking them to a nest) and a different individual with a juvenile clinging to her back. It just goes to show that my camera traps always have something new to teach me.
One ‘opossum thing’ that the literature assures me that four-eyed opossums don’t do is play opossum. Instead, they go the other way with it. They’ve gained a reputation as the feistiest of opossum species, willing to stand their ground and fight when necessary. I’ve never run into a gray four-eyed opossum in person, so I’ve never had to fight one.
Though I’ve recorded them in camera trap projects all over Costa Rica. I’m happy to share a few of those clips with you. So take a gander at the video below and meet the common gray four-eyed opossum.