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12 Common Behaviors Of Short-Tailed Opossums

Learn about how short-tailed opossums behave and what to expect from them as pets.

Laura Doering
Posted: November 26, 2014, 5:05 p.m. EST

Monodelphis domestica — at first glance, the uninitiated might mistake this small South American native for a small rat, especially given its similar grayish brown fur and its tail. Upon closer look, however, the face resembles its distant cousin, the much larger Virginia opossum (also referred to as the common possum) often seen in urban habitats throughout the United States, especially Southern states.

The cute critter we’re talking about here is the short-tailed opossum, a marsupial from the Didelphidae family of opossums that is a native of southern, central and western Brazil, as well as parts of Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay. The short-tailed opossum, or STO for short, is certainly an exotic-looking pet companion, and it also has some interesting behaviors. 

1. Bug Eater
An added benefit of sharing your home with a short-tailed opossum is that you’ll have a companion pet that sniffs out bugs to eat. However, you do not want to house your STO near your hamster, rat, mouse or other rodent, as he will think of them as food — the short-tailed opossum’s native diet, in addition to insects, includes rodents as well as frogs and reptiles. They sniff out food and use their long snouts to poke about and dig up prey. 

2. Night Lover
Short-tailed opossums are, for the most part, creatures of the night as they are most active starting at dusk. Some people who share their lives with STOs report that they will venture out during the day to see what’s going on. That’s not to say that you should make a habit of interrupting your STO in middle of his midday slumber. This pet is a great companion for those who have evening hours to interact with them.

3. Solitary
Short-tailed opossums prefer to live without the company of another STO. Once they reach sexual maturity, they can be quite aggressive toward others of their kind — hissing, screeching and lunging at one another in a standing fight posture. In the wild, these little critters only get together to mate.

4. Leave Their Mark
Speaking of solitary creatures, STOs set up a territory perimeter by way of scent marking. Males habitually mark their surroundings with glands located on their chin, neck, chest and cloaca. Scent marking serves two purposes: one, to warn other males to back off and, two, to woo females. A related behavior is rubbing their snout against an object and leaving their saliva on it, which looks like they are nuzzling it. 

5. A Show Of Teeth
An upset short-tailed opossum will show you his disapproval with a mouth opened to display his teeth. He is not smiling, but rather warning you to back off. 

short-tailed opossum walking
© Isabelle Francais/I-5 Publishing 
Short-tailed opossums enjoy having an exercise wheel and branches to climb on in their habitat.

6. Can Be A Friend
While they may not like being with others of their kind, short-tailed opossums can become tame and learn to love being with their human companion. If handled early on and handled respectfully, an STO can be a snuggle buddy and inquisitive companion. 

7. Escape Artist
Short-tailed opossums have a reputation of figuring out how to get out of their enclosures, which makes a well-secured habitat a must. Some STO enthusiasts recommend a reptile-type enclosure with a tight-fitting top or a wire cage with narrow mesh. 

8. Taking A Spin
Short-tailed opossums expend a lot of energy running on an exercise wheel. In the wild, individual STOs have relatively large territories, so these are critters that nature designed to be on the go! Of course, being that they are nocturnal, expect to hear the whir of the exercise wheel during the night. They also like to climb, so offering ladders and branches to climb on for both exercise and mental stimulation is a must. (Just make sure the ladder or branch doesn’t make for an easy escape out of their environment!)

9. A Tidy Pet
An STO typically chooses one place to go potty within his enclosure, which makes cleaning relatively easy. Some STO enthusiasts report that these pets can even be litter-box trained. 

10. A Hide-And-Seek Fan
In the wild, short-tailed opossums take shelter in nests they make out of bark and leaves. Likewise, your STO companion will appreciate a place to hide in, such as shredded paper, a tunnel or sleepy hut; all make good lounge spots. 

11. Not A Gnawer
Their relative size and passing resemblance to a rodent might cause some people to think that short-tailed opossums are insatiable gnawers, but they are said to be more into gathering up things than chewing them up. And they might use their tails to pick up objects that capture their interest and bring them back to their nest.

12. Not Your Typical Marsupial
Unlike other marsupials, short-tailed opossums don’t have pouches. Instead of finishing up their development in their mother’s pouch (e.g., kangaroos, sugar gliders), the offspring of short-tailed opossums latch onto their mother’s nipples, which causes the nipples to enlarge and hold the babies in place while she moves about.

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Posted: November 26, 2014, 5:05 p.m. EST


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12 Common Behaviors Of Short-Tailed Opossums

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Reader Comments
I didn't even know people owned opposums as pets; what a great article!
Autum, Caldwell, ID
Posted: 4/20/2015 5:00:37 PM
Oh wow, I could never have written such a complete article about these incredibly underestimated pets. Truly one of the best kept secrets of the small pet world. I can't say enough about them. They make the best travel buddies too as they can be carried in a tiny comfy pouch on your shoulder. They don't seem to stress with that. Thank you for giving them some well deserved recognition.
Rebecca, hixson, TN
Posted: 11/30/2014 8:40:34 AM
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