Caenolestidae – Shrew Opossum

Why would you call them that? They are technically not opossums, and they definitely don’t live, act or look much like shrews!

Known as shrew opossums, it comprises a group of small, elusive marsupials native to South America, specifically within the dense forests and verdant grasslands along the western slopes of the Andes. These creatures are among the lesser-known marsupials compared to their Australian counterparts, partly due to their nocturnal habits and their preferred remote habitats. Despite their name, shrew opossums are not closely related to the true shrews of the order Eulipotyphla but share some superficial similarities due to convergent evolution.

These animals have a distinctive appearance, featuring dark brown fur, a long tail, and a body structure that may remind one of a rat at first glance. However, upon closer examination, several unique features become apparent. Shrew opossums possess a long snout, which is characteristic of animals known colloquially as shrews. This snout houses a keen sense of smell, compensating for their poor vision, a common trait among nocturnal animals. Surrounding their snout, an array of tactile whiskers (vibrissae) plays a crucial role in navigating their environment and locating prey in the dark.

One of the most interesting aspects of shrew opossum biology is their digestive system. Unlike the majority of marsupials, which often have chambered stomachs adapted to their specific diets, shrew opossums have a simple, non-chambered stomach. This feature suggests a varied diet and a generalist feeding strategy, allowing them to exploit various food sources.

Despite their secretive nature, what is known about the diet of shrew opossums indicates they are primarily insectivorous, feeding on insects and other small invertebrates they find within the leaf litter and undergrowth of their forest and grassland habitats. This diet aligns with their physical adaptations, including their long snout and tactile whiskers, which aid in detecting prey.