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Shrew Opossums: Paucituberculata


The gray-bellied shrew opossum, the blackish shrew opossum, the silky shrew opossum, and the Incan shrew opossum live in dense vegetation in cool, rainy mountain forests and meadows, from 4,500 to 12,000 feet (1,500 to 4,000 meters) above sea level. The Chilean shrew opossum inhabits rainy lowland temperate rainforest along the Chilean coast from sea level to 2,270 feet (1,135 meters), preferring dense forest with mossy trees and logs, and soaking wet forest floors.


Like the few poor refugees of a downfallen, once mighty civilization, the five living shrew opossum species, lurking in the undergrowth of temperate forests in South America, are but a pale afterglow of their former splendor. From seventeen to twenty-four million years ago, the order Paucituberculata included four other families besides Caenolestidae, while the caenolestids were the most abundant marsupials in terms of species during that era. The extinct Paucituberculata species had teeth specialized in unique ways, and lived in both temperate and tropical biomes throughout most of the South American continent.

The extinct families of Paucituberculata are Paleothentidae, Abderitidae, Polydolopidae, and Argyrolagidae. Species of Paleothentinae had developed an enlarged forward lower molar with a shearing crest. Abderitinae species took that molar further and equipped it with a forward-facing, sharp, high, serrated blade. The species of Polydolopidae carried a number of enlarged, forward-directed lower incisors and a pair of large shearing teeth of uncertain origin. The Polydolopidae were small marsupials, the largest no bigger than a rabbit, that behaved and were equipped like rodents. The rodent-like Argyrolagidae resembled small kangaroos, with two-toed hind feet and a long, well-muscled tail. They moved about by hopping and leaping, much like kangaroos. Family Paleothentidae evolved an impressive nine genera and nineteen species.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceMammalsShrew Opossums: Paucituberculata - Physical Characteristics, Geographic Range, Habitat, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, Silky Shrew Opossum (caenolestes Fuliginosus): Species Account - SHREW OPOSSUMS AND PEOPLE, CONSERVATION STATUS