THERYA NOTES 2023, Vol. 4 : 177-182 DOI: 10.12933/therya_notes-23-126 ISSN 2954-3614

Philander opossum as prey of Didelphis marsupialis in a rainforest in México

Philander opossum como presa de Didelphis marsupialis en una selva tropical húmeda en México

J. Vladimir Rojas-Sánchez1,2, Víctor Sánchez-Cordero1, Rosamond Coates3, Mauricio Hernández-Jauregui4, and José Juan Flores-Martínez1*

1Laboratorio de Sistemas de Información Geográfica, Departamento de Zoología, Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Circuito Zona Deportiva s/n, C. U., C. P. 04510, Coyoacán. Ciudad de México, México. E-mail: (JVR-S); (VS-C); (JJF-M).

2Posgrado en Ciencias Biológicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Ciudad de México, México.

3Estación de Biología Tropical Los Tuxtlas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. km 30 Carretera Catemaco - Montepío, Tuxtla, C. P. 95701, San Andrés. Veracruz, México. E-mail: (RC).

4Facultad de Ciencias Biológicas y Agropecuarias, Región Córdoba-Orizaba, Universidad Veracruzana. Josefa Ortíz de Domínguez s/n, C. P. 94945, Amatlán de los Reyes. Veracruz, México. E-mail: (MH-J).

*Corresponding author

Neotropical rainforests hold a high mammalian diversity with complex species interactions. Opossums are a common group of mammals inhabiting these forests. In México, the common opossum Didelphis marsupialis and the four-eyed opossum, Philander opossum are sympatric species in these forests. The study site is located at Los Tuxtlas Biological Station in Veracruz, México. We filmed a video in situ of an interaction between 2 species of opossums using a cell phone camera. The morphological characteristics of both species of opossums correspond to adult individuals of D. marsupialis and P. opossum. The video shows an individual of D. marsupialis crossing a trail and carrying a corpse of an individual of P. opossum in its snout. We document the first report of P. opossum as a prey of D. marsupialis in a rainforest in México and discuss whether it was due to predation or to an opportunistic encounter of a corpse that was removed for later consumption. Didelphis marsupialis is known to act as a scavenger and to hunt other opossum species. Our observations coincide with a study documenting a predation event of D. marsupialis over P. opossum in Barro Colorado, Panamá, and adds valuable information on D. marsupialis feeding habits in tropical rainforests.

Key words: Common opossum; feeding habits; four-eyed opossum; Los Tuxtlas; Veracruz.

Las selvas húmedas Neotropicales albergan una diversidad de mamíferos con interacciones complejas entre especies. Los didélfidos, conocidos como tlacuaches, son mamíferos comunes en estas selvas húmedas. En México, el tlacuache común, Didelphis marsupialis y el tlacuache cuatro ojos, Philander opossum son especies simpátricas en estas selvas. La zona de estudio se localiza en una selva tropical húmeda de la Estación de Biología Los Tuxtlas, en Veracruz, México. Se filmaron ambas especies de tlacuaches in situ usando un teléfono celular. Las características morfológicas de ambas especies corresponden a individuos adultos de D. marsupialis y P. opossum. El video muestra a un individuo de D. marsupialis cruzando una vereda y llevando en su hocico un cadáver, como presa, de un individuo de P. opossum. Se documenta el primer reporte de P. opossum como presa de D. marsupialis en una selva tropical húmeda en México. Se discute si este escenario ocurrió por un evento de depredación, o bien, por un encuentro fortuito con una carcasa que estaba siendo trasladada para su consumo. Se conoce que D. marsupialis consume carcasas, aunque también caza otras especies de tlacuaches. Nuestro estudio coincide con observaciones que documentan la depredación de D. marsupialis sobre P. opossum en Barro Colorado, Panamá y contribuye a proveer información relevante sobre los hábitos alimenticios de esta especie en selvas tropicales húmedas.

Palabras clave: Hábitos alimenticios; Los Tuxtlas; tlacuache común; tlacuache cuatro ojos; Veracruz.

© 2023 Asociación Mexicana de Mastozoología,

Neotropical rainforests harbor a high diversity of mammals holding complex species interactions. Opossums are a group of mammals that are well represented in these forests (Voss and Jansa 2021). Specifically, México holds 7 species of opossums, among these, Didelphis marsupialis and the four-eye opossum Philander opossum are sympatric in Los Tuxtlas rainforests and present similar habits (Gardner 1982; Ramírez-Pulido et al. 1982; Coates-Estrada and Estrada 1986). Although the differential use of space seems to be a factor that allows the coexistence of species of opossum, some traits such as size and feeding habits, are important features in differentiating their ecology (Leite et al. 1996).

The study of the feeding habits of opossums is a fundamental aspect of their natural history (Voss and Jansa 2021). Overall, opossums such as Didelphis, Lutreolina and Philander are considered omnivorous, and are known to consume large amounts of insects (Sandidge 1953; Leite et al. 1996; Cáceres and Monteiro-Filho 2001), crustaceans (González-Ruíz et al. 2022), birds (Cordero and Nicolas 1987; Cáceres and Monteiro-Filho 2001), snakes (Cordero and Nicolas 1987; Cáceres and Monteiro-Filho 2001; Niño-Reyes et al. 2020), and mammals (i. e., Felis catus and Rattus rattus; Cordero and Nicolas 1987), including other opossum species (Wilson 1970; Cordero and Nicolas 1987; Macedo et al. 2010). Other didelphids are known to prey on species of opossums, such as Marmosa paraguaya and Philander quica on Monodelphis sp. (Macedo et al. 2010; Pires et al. 2010), and Lutreolina crassicaudata on Marmosa sp. (Monteiro-Filho and Dias 1990). We report a species interaction between D. marsupialis and P. opossum in a tropical rainforest in México.

The study site is located at Los Tuxtlas Tropical Biological Station (Los Tuxtlas) in southeastern México. Los Tuxtlas includes a polygon of 644 ha of tropical rainforest surrounded by a landscape matrix of pastures for agriculture and livestock (Coates 2017; Von Thaden et al. 2020; Figure 1). Due to deforestation, certain large native mammal species as Panthera onca and Puma concolor have been extirpated from the region or occur in diminished population abundances as in the case of Odocoileus virginianus (Flores-Martínez et al. 2014; Ríos-Solis et al. 2021). Loss of large predator species for example, is a process that can promote the increase of herbivores and mesopredators abundances (Terborgh 2001). Recent studies in Los Tuxtlas have documented the occurrence of large population abundances of medium-sized mammals, including opossums, such as D. marsupialis and P. opossum (Ríos-Solis et al. 2021; Flores-Martínez et al. 2022).

We filmed a video of an interaction between two opossums approximately at 30 km of the Catemaco-Montepío road (18º 34' 59'' N, 95º 04' 06'' W; at 300 m altitude), using an iPhone 8 cell phone camera, and with the help of lighting from a Toyota, Hilux pickup truck (Appendix 1).

The video was taken at 23:24 hr on February 3, 2023, and shows one large opossum crossing a trail, carrying a corpse of another smaller opossum in its snout. The large opossum exhibits a mottled color pattern, showing a distinctive shift in coloration within the first third of the tail; it was identified as an adult of D. marsupialis. The smaller opossum has a uniform grayish coloration, with a black tail except for the last third, where it changes to white; it was identified as an adult of P. opossum. Despite detecting human presence, D. marsupialis continued carrying its prey until reaching the edge of the trail. Once it reaches a vegetation patch, the individual of D. marsupialis is observed to pause for a moment to hold its prey more firmly after a maneuvering to avoid a branch that was blocking its path (Figure 2a-c).

This study reports the first record of direct evidence of an individual of P. opossum as prey of an adult individual of D. marsupialis at Los Tuxtlas. Didelphis marsupialis is known to be an opportunistic species with omnivorous feeding habits (Cordero and Nicolas 1987). We do not know if this episode resulted from a predation event or by encountering a corpse of an adult individual of P. opossum and opportunistically removing it. On the other hand, a scenario for a potential predation event is supported by the fact that we observed that the general condition of the corpse of P. opossum with an apparent absence of rigor mortis, based on the flexibility of its body, suggests that the specimen had not been dead for long. This suggests that, more than being a scavenger event, it could be a hunting event. Moreover, the video was recorded in February, coinciding with the dry season and low fruit production at Los Tuxtlas (Dunn et al. 2010). Therefore, it is possible that D. marsupialis may resort to hunting as a strategy to compensate for the scarcity of other trophic resources, as has been observed in Didelphis, Lutreolina and Philander (Voss and Jansa 2021). Predation interactions between opossums have been reported on multiple occasions (Monteiro-Filho and Dias 1990; Macedo et al. 2010; Pires et al. 2010), including a description of confrontation, and the subsequent predation by an individual of D. marsupialis on P. opossum in Barro Colorado, Panamá (Wilson 1970).

A second possibility is that D. marsupialis encountered a corpse of an individual of P. opossum and opportunistically removed it to feed elsewhere (Niño-Reyes et al. 2020). A scavenging behavior have been documented in other opossum species as Lutreolina crassicaudata (Facure and Ramos 2011), D. aurita (Carvalho et al. 2005), D. virginiana (McManus 1974; Hopkins and Forbes 1980; Sandidge 1953), and D. marsupialis (Cordero and Nicolas 1987). Further, opossums of the genus Didelphis are not fast animals, reaching maximum running speeds of only 7.4 km/h, which can complicate hunting success (McManus 1974). This study documented a fortuitous event of the feeding habits of opossums adding relevant information to their natural history (Leite et al. 1996; Flores-Martínez et al. 2014; Voss and Jansa 2021; Flores-Martínez et al. 2022).


We thank Y. Hortelano-Moncada, for the advice and consultation provided by the National Mammal Collection, Institute of Biology UNAM. Los Tuxtlas Tropical Biology Station and the Institute of Biology for the logistical support provided for the field work. And to the NGO “Ciencia y Comunidad por la Conservación” for its invaluable support. We also want to thank 2 anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments, which contributed to improve earlier versions of this note.

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Associated editor: Jorge Ayala Berdón.

Submitted: May 27, 2023; Reviewed: August 29, 2023.

Accepted: September 7, 2023; Published on line: September 20, 2023.

Appendix 1

Video of an adult individual of the common opossum (Didelphis marsupialis) crossing a road and carrying the corpse of an adult individual of a four-eyed opossum (Philander opossum), in the rainforest near Los Tuxtlas Tropical Biology Station, Veracruz, México. Video available in

Figure 1. Maps depicting the study site near Los Tuxtlas Tropical Biology Station (LTTBS) and its geographic location within Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve (LTBR), Veracruz, México.

Figure 2. a-c) Sequence of images showing an adult individual of the common opossum, Didelphis marsupialis crossing a road and carrying the corpse of an adult individual of the four-eyed opossum, Philander opossum in its snout, near Los Tuxtlas Tropical Biology Station, Veracruz, México. Images and video are available in and