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Kidadl Team

AUGUST 06, 2021

Water Opossum: 21 Facts You Won't Believe!

Water opossum facts such as the female opossums often carry their young on their backs are interesting.

The water opossum (Chironectes minimus) is also known as yapok. The species got this name from the river Oyapok in French Guiana. These aquatic marsupials are thought to be native to French Guinea on the coast of South America and are found in Central and South America. They are found in their natural range of tropical moist forests and near streams in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Mexico.

Water opossums are mammals but belong to a subfamily Didelphinae of marsupials, meaning animals with a pouch for raising their young ones. Water opossums are the only aquatic marsupials belonging to the family Didelphidae, species C. minimus. Another distinctive feature about these aquatic species of animals is both sexes have a pouch to house their offspring.

Along with preying on fish and crustaceans, these animals also feed on some aquatic plants. Water opossums have short, thick, water-repellent fur with a gray and black marbled pattern. The forefeet and the broad hind feet are different. The hind webbed feet are used for swimming through water in aquatic habitats and moving ahead with alternate strokes. Water opossums are mammals and marsupials that live in aquatic habitats. They have adaptations that allow them to protect young animals while swimming.

You may also check out our fact files on red kangaroo and Virginia opossum from Kidadl.

Water Opossum Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a water opossum?

Water opossums are interesting animals. They are the only marsupials in the Americas. These semi-aquatic water opossums are mammals with pouches for carrying their offspring.

What class of animal does a water opossum belong to?

Water opossums or Chironectes minimus is a semi-aquatic marsupial species from order Didelphimorphia endemic to America. The species dates back to 65 million years ago.

Water opossum yapok as it is called in its native habitats is particularly rare.

How many water opossums are there in the world?

It is difficult to say how many water opossums are there in the world. They are rare to find but have a stable population.

Where does a water opossum live?

Water opossums from the genus Chironectes live near freshwater streams. Their range includes several South American and Central American countries. The semi-aquatic, webbed-feet animals live in and close to lakes, rivers, in tropical moist forests. Their water-repellent coats help the C. minimus survive and nurture their young ones. Marsupials are found in Australia as earlier, there was a lack of predators and competition. Mothers could develop babies in pouches.

What is a water opossum's habitat?

The ideal habitat of water opossum yapok are areas near the rivers and lakes. They live in the warm tropical climate and subtropical rainforests in South America and Central America. Yapoks are usually found in altitudes from sea level to 6000 ft (1829 m) above in their range. Yapoks lead a sedentary lifestyle with no migratory habits.

The lifestyle and habitat of this semi-aquatic, web-footed species are different from other Didelphidae family members.

These animals are outstanding divers and swimmers. They swim along the length of rivers with the help of their webbed hind feet. The symmetrical hind feet distribute the force of the swimming strokes equally. Owing to this adaptation feature, water opossum yapoks can move quickly through any aquatic surrounding. When threatened, yapoks jump into the water to escape from predators.

Who do water opossums live with?

Water opossum yapok leads a solitary life except for breeding season. Water opossums are hostile toward other yapoks of their species and forage and hunt for prey alone in freshwater bodies in their range. These mammals use their prehensile tails to hold and transport nesting materials.

How long does a water opossum live?

A yapok’s lifespan in captivity is about three years.

How do they reproduce?

Water opossums are polyestrous and come into heat and can mate more than once a year. A pair stays together for days and as a mating ritual, the male follows circles the female. Reproduction takes place twice a year. Average two or three offspring per breeding season are born. The male or the jack yapok leaves after mating. The gestation period lasts for about twelve days. Jills, or females, take care of the offspring. Females can give birth to up to twenty jellybean-sized joeys at a time but only a few reach the mother’s pouch alive.

The young ones develop and stay safe inside the mother’s pouch even when she is swimming. Young yapoks grow the fastest among all the Didelphidae species animals. The young animals spend about forty days inside the mother’s pouch. By then their body fur, markings, and pigmentation are visible and they open their eyes. After a while, they leave the pouch but suckle and live with their mother. Sometimes the females carry their young on their back.

Reproduction happens at different times in different countries. In Brazil, they reproduce from December till February. January and February are the ideal birth months.

What is their conservation status?

The conservation status of water opossums is of the Least Concern according to the IUCN.

Water Opossum Fun Facts

What do water opossums look like?

An adult water opossum’s head and body length can be from 10.5-16 in (27-40 cm). The length of the tail is about 12-17 in (30-43 cm). The body is covered with short, gray, and black dense, water-repellent fur. This is a unique feature among the Didelphidae. The webbed hind feet are aquatic adaptation features. The forefeet are used to catch prey. The animals have a white underbelly. The crown and the muzzle are black. These animals have tufts of sensory facial bristles above each eye and also whiskers. The animal’s prehensile tail lacks fur and is used for grasping and holding.

Virginia opossum or North American opossum is the only marsupial found north of Mexico.

How cute are they?

Water opossums are cute, harmless animals that carry their young ones inside their pouch. Though the population of this species faces no concern right now, they are seldom seen.

How do they communicate?

Water opossums make different kinds of sounds. They may hiss or growl lightly when they feel the presence of danger. They may also make noises while fighting with their opponents during the breeding season usually from December to February and beyond in different climates.

How big is a water opossum?

A Tasmanian pygmy possum is the tiniest possum in the world. A water opossum is 10.5-16 in (27-40 cm) long and weighs 1.3-1.7 lb (0.6-0.8 kg) and is 85 times heavier than the Tasmanian pygmy possum.

How fast can a water opossum run?

There are no references to the running speed of yapoks.

How much does a water opossum weigh?

An adult water opossum weighs 1.3-1.7 lb (0.6-0.8 kg).

What are the male and female names of the species?

Males are called jack and females are called jill.

What would you call a baby water opossum?

A baby water opossum is called a joey.

What do they eat?

Water opossums live in a semi-aquatic habitat. They eat crayfish, crabs, frogs, shrimp, small fish, some water plants, and fruits. These animals usually search for food at night and rest in between. They rest during the day in their temporary ground nests built with grass and hay in a hidden, shady ground. When underwater, these animals close their eyes and ears. They depend on their facial bristles or whiskers to detect motion.

Are they dangerous?

Water opossums live in forests and riversides in their underground burrows away from human civilization. Their aquatic lifestyle poses no danger or threat to human communities. In some countries, water opossums are hunted by humans for their waterproof fur for making clothing and accessories.

Would they make a good pet?

Water opossums are wild animals living in specialized habitats. They do not make good pets and live their best life in the wild.

Did you know...

The pouch of a female water opossum is made of a strong ring of muscles that make it watertight. Males also have pouches but they are not as water-tight as females. Males keep their genitals or scrotum inside the pouch before entering the water and when swimming.

What is the world's only aquatic marsupial?

Yapoks or water opossum (Chironectes minimus) from species C. minimus are the only aquatic marsupials on earth. This species inhabits the freshwater streams of South American countries like Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and are also found in North America.

Is there a difference between a possum and an opossum?

Opossums and possums are completely different animals. Opossums live in the Americas, while possums are found in Australia and some Indonesian islands.  Both the animals are marsupials with different kinds of diets and lifestyles.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! For more relatable content, check out these Frengle facts and Atlantic spotted dolphin facts pages.

You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our Water Opossum coloring pages.

*Please note that this is an image of a bare-tailed woolly opossum, not a water opossum. If you have an image of a water opossum, please let us know at [email protected]

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