Short-tailed opossum

Mondelphia domestica

Order: Didelphimorphia

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

  • Must be housed alone unless you are trying to breed.
  • Single animals can be kept in 30-gallon aquariums with at least one hide provided.
  • Keep a luggage strap around the tank to secure the lid because this species is known to push on lids and escape.
  • Wood shavings (aspen) can be used for substrate. This species isn’t very dirty, so keepers only need to spot clean daily, with periodic full cleans.

Diet Requirements

  • In the wild, they eat insects, fruits, and vegetable matter.
  • In captivity, they are fed insectivore pellets, ground dog food, vegetables, hard-boiled egg, pinkies, and/or mealworms.
  • Jacksonville Zoo uses LabDiet Short Tailed Opossum #2 5ATD
  • Phoenix zoo uses insectivore diet, meal and wax worms, as well as crickets, and a variety of fruit.

Veterinary Concerns

  • Generally healthy, but this species doesn’t live terribly long, so be aware of that. At Philadelphia, both of ours were eventually euthanized because of cancer, but they were both considered old at that point. We did not experience any chronic issues.
  • At Philadelphia Zoo, our opossums got “crispy ear” in the winter due to the dry heat. A little Vasoline on the ear tips when needed fixed that right up.
  • Jacksonville Zoo experiences alopecia in the hind area with most females over the age of 1.

Notes on Enrichment & Training

  • If they are handled when young (3 to 4 months old) then they will be easily handled for the rest of their lives.
  • Provide some vertical structure for them to climb on in their enclosure.
  • Adding a running wheel to their enclosure will help burn off extra energy.
  • Can be trained to for simple behaviors like station and target if sessions are frequent. Ours did best with both target (plastic chopstick) and station scented with vanilla extract to catch her attention. Target can also be used to get them to make paw-print paintings.


Colony or Breeding Management


Individual Identification


Programmatic Information


Temperature Guidelines



Tips on Presentation

Touching Techniques

Tips on Handling

  • More tractable than other small mammals, mostly will sit on your hand but always be cautious of leaping.
  • You can always present them in a small pouch to give them security while presenting.
  • Seem to do well with multiple handlers.


Potential Messaging

  • They are marsupials without a pouch. If you have a female, you can show her nipples and talk about how the babies just dangle off them. Contrast that with other marsupials.
  • They have a prehensile tail that is easy to show off to a small group.
  • Themes such as, South America, Rain forest habitat, Nocturnal animals, Mammal/marsupial
  • Paper – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle:One of the best ways for people to help the rainforest is to reduce their use of paper. Many rainforest trees are felled each year for paper that ends up in countries all over the world. Much of the tropical paper pulp products that end up in the United States come from South America, particularly the Amazon Rainforest. Please ask guests to go paperless in the office whenever possible, to print on both sides, to recycle any paper or cardboard they do use, and to purchase products made from recycled paper. At home, they can substitute re-usable cloth towels for disposable paper towels and cleaning wipes and purchase toilet paper made from recycled material rather than super-plush toilet paper which is made from old-growth forests.
  • Wood – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle:One of the best ways for people to help the rainforest is to reduce their use of tropical woods. Many rainforest trees are felled each year for lumber, furniture, and other products that end up in countries all over the world. Much of tropical wood imported into the United States comes from South America, particularly the Amazon Rainforest. Ask guests to consider used or vintage furniture or new furniture made of wood that has been reclaimed from old structures. There are many alternatives to conventional lumber including flooring and other products made from fast-growing bamboo, and decking made of recycled plastic formed to look like wooden boards.
  • Shade-grown coffee: The original coffee plants that were cultivated could not withstand much sunlight and were therefore grown beneath the canopy of the forest. Due to the popularity of coffee, most strains of coffee plants have been cultivated over time to withstand full sunlight. This has created large-scale deforestation for coffee plantations. Please ask guests to choose organic shade-grown coffee in which the plants are grown beneath the forest canopy, preserving arboreal habitat for tamarins, marmosets, sakis, binturongs, and birds while the forest floor is being used for human purposes. Look for coffee that is Rainforest Alliance Certified or marked “Organic Shade-Grown”.

Acquisition Information

Animals are available upon request from Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and Miller Park Zoo.

Comments from the Rating System

  • Philadelphia Zoo: Easy to handle, but not commonly seen. An interesting marsupial, but very small.
  • Pittsburgh Zoo: Very nice animals, but a little small for most of our programs.

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

Short-tailed opossums are found mainly in Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Chile. They can often be found near humans – even living inside a house.

Physical Description

The fur is a thick, velvety gray-brown on top with a lighter tone underneath. The muzzle is rat-like, and the teeth are very sharp. The prehensile tail is used to grasp things to maintain balance while climbing. The tail can also be used to carry nesting materials and other things, but it is not weight bearing. The ears are large, very thin-skinned, and sensitive to sound. The eyes bulge out, giving them good night vision. The front legs are shorter than the hind legs.
A mature short-tailed opossum will reach a body length of about 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) with a tail that is another 1.5 to 3 inches (4 to 7.5 cm). Adult weight is between 2 and 5 ounces (60 to 150 grams.) The males are about 25% larger than the females.

Life Cycle

Short-tailed opossums are pouchless marsupials: young are still born very small and underdeveloped, and still clamp themselves to a nipple after birth, but they are not inside a pouch.
There is no breeding season; short-tailed opossums will breed at any time of year, and can have up to four litters a year. Gestation period is about 2 weeks, and females can give birth to up to 13 babies per litter. Sexual maturity is reached at 4 to 5 months of age.
In the wild, short-tailed opossums live up to 2 years; in captivity, they can typically get to 3 or 4 years old. The record is 6 years old.


A short-tailed opossum can become a docile pet that can be easily handled by people, and is curious, active, and entertaining. They are naturally solitary, though, so they should not be housed with other opossums. Even when you are trying to breed them, males and females shouldn’t be left together for more than about 12 days. Cagemates will eventually become aggressive towards each other, and could kill each other.

Threats and Conservation Status

This species is not threatened in the wild. Common predators are not well known: probably birds of prey and carnivorous mammals. This species entered the pet trade in 1994. Brazil, where most short-tailed opossums are found, has since closed its borders to exportation, so those opossums available as pets have all been bred in captivity.

Did you know…

  • Natives of North and South America call them “cachita” and consider them to be good luck.
  • Opossums are not the same thing as possums. Opossums range from North America to southern Argentina and contain 15 genera with over 60 species. Possums are found in Australia with over 20 species. They are all marsupials, but opossums and possums are only distantly related within the same subclass.


Sydney and Leila painting 3 crop.jpg
Sydney targets Leela on canvas, Natural Encounters

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Contributors and Citations

  • The Philadelphia Zoo
  • Houston Zoo, Natural Encounters
  • Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

Top Photo: By Dawson at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (, from Wikimedia Commons