Monitos del monte (Dromiciops gliroides) are found in southern South America, specifically the northern portions of Patagonia, between 36 and 43 degrees south latitude. In addition to mainland South America, they are also found on Chiloe Island. (Patterson and Rogers, 2007; Rodriguez-Cabal, et al., 2008)
Monitos del monte are found in temperate forests and rainforests. They are mainly found in old-growth Nothofagus forests, but can be found in a variety of habitats ranging from dense thickets of bamboo (Chusquea) to open, secondary forests. A study of small mammals at elevations from 425 to 1,135 m above sea level in Chile found that monitos del monte were captured more often at higher elevations (820 to 1,135 m) than at lower elevations (425 to 715 m). (Nowak, 1999; Patterson and Rogers, 2007; Patterson, et al., 1989; Rodriguez-Cabal, et al., 2008)
Monitos del monte are small, superficially mouse-like marsupials, with a short rostrum and small, rounded ears. Their pelage is short and dense. While the majority of their body is brownish gray, their shoulders and rump may have white patches. Their ventral pelage is a lighter color, ranging from yellowish white to pale gray. Although a whorling pattern is sometimes visible, their most distinct pelage characteristic is their pronounced black eye rings. Their head to body length is between 83 and 130 mm excluding their tail, which is between 90 and 132 mm long. Their tail is moderately prehensile and well-furred, except for a 25 to 30 mm naked underside portion, which may improve traction when the animal grasps tree branches. Monitos del monte weighs between 16 and 42 g. They resemble members of genus Marmosa, however, monitos del monte possess shorter limbs, more robust hands and feet, more semicircular upper incisors and smaller, furrier ears. (Beer, 2003; Marshall, 1978; Nowak, 1999)
Seasonal variation and sexual dimorphism has been observed. A study of monitos del monte in Patagonia found that by the end of summer, females are significantly heavier and longer than males. Although both sexes use their tails as storage organs, females tend to have thicker tails; this suggests that females have higher energy needs during times of hibernation or torpor. While variation in tail thickness is seasonal, it is unclear if females are larger than males year-round. Geographic variation has also been reported in this species. Previously, two subspecies were recognized based on geography. Mainland monitos del monte were referred to Dromiciops australis australis and those from Chiloe Island were referred to Dromiciops australis gliroides. However, the only noticeable difference in appearance between these groups is the darker pelage of island monitos del monte. Due to insufficient distinguishing characters between mainland and island populations, separate subspecies are no longer recognized as distinct. (Patterson and Rogers, 2007; Rodriguez-Cabal, et al., 2008)
Monitos del monte become sexually mature after their second year and breed in the austral spring (August to September), breeding pairs form shortly beforehand. It is not known whether these pairs persist after mating. (Marshall, 1978; Munoz-Pedreros, et al., 2005)
Monitos del monte typically reach sexual maturity at age 2 and breed once yearly. Males and females form pairs and mate in August or September. Before parturition occurs, females construct small, rounded nests (about 200 mm in diameter) from sticks and water-repellent bamboo. These nests are located 1 to 2 m above the ground. Young are born approximately 3 to 4 weeks after conception and climb into the well-developed, anteroventral opening of the marsupium, where they remain attached to 1 of the 4 teats for approximately 2 months. Litters of up to 5 young have been reported, but females are unable to feed more than 4 offspring at a time. Although the young begin to exit the marsupium for short durations beginning in December, they do not become completely independent until March. (Munoz-Pedreros, et al., 2005; Nowak, 1999)
Female monitos del monte suckle their altricial young for approximately 5 months (from early November to late March). Prior to their independence, females carry offspring in their marsupium or on their backs during "nocturnal family excursions". (Munoz-Pedreros, et al., 2005)
Although the lifespan of monitos del monte is unknown in the wild, the longest recorded lifespan in captivity is 26 months. (Nowak, 1999)
Monitos del monte are marsupials with nocturnal habits. They are arboreal or scansorial and use their prehensile tails, large hands and feet, and opposable halluces to climb trees. Although typically regarded as rare, they may be underrepresented in capture studies due to their avoidance of closed, box-type traps. Changes in ambient temperatures and food availability can induce spontaneous torpor in monitos del monte. They can exhibit daily fluctuations in body temperature and metabolic rate and are capable of shallow, short term torpor. Decreased ambient temperatures, coupled with decreased food cause deep, prolonged torpor (hibernation); this typically occurs during the winter and spring. This helps these animals survive in extreme environments. It also enables monitos del monte to conserve energy and avoid costly foraging when resources are limited. (Bozinovic, et al., 2004; Kelt and Martinez, 1989; Marshall, 1978)
The home range and territory size of monitos del monte is not known. A study in Patagonia estimated a summer population size of 54 individuals based on capture-mark-recapture methods. (Rodriguez-Cabal, et al., 2008)
Monitos del monte communicate via sound. At night they produce trilling calls that end in a coughing noise, as well as buzzing noises. Other modes of communication are not known. Similarly, although males and females form pairs during the breeding season, populations and social structures are not known during other times of the year. (Beer, 2003; Marshall, 1978; Rodriguez-Cabal, et al., 2008)
Monitos del monte are primarily insectivorous, eating insects, larvae and pupae found on tree branches and in crevices in bark. Moths and butterflies also make up a large part of their diet. During the austral summer, monitos del monte consume large quantities of fleshy fruits, including mistletoe fruits. In captivity, monitos del monte eat a wide variety of food, including fruits, vegetables, potatoes, oats, invertebrates, vertebrates, meat, fish, eggs and cheese. (Amico, et al., 2009; Beer, 2003; Kelt and Martinez, 1989; Marshall, 1978; Rodriguez-Cabal, et al., 2007)
Predators of monitos del monte include native and introduced birds and mammals, particularly domestic cats. Monitos del monte are important prey items for several predators, they make-up the following percentages of their predator's diets: 10% for gray foxes, 3.6% for Darwin's foxes and a small portion for barn owls. Monitos del monte produce strong smelling secretions from cutaneous glands, which may deter predators. They also exhibit a threat posture with teeth exposed, particularly if aroused from torpor. (Jaksic, et al., 1990; Kelt and Martinez, 1989; Marshall, 1978; Rau, et al., 1995; Rodriguez-Cabal, et al., 2007; Trejo and Ojeda, 2004)
In the temperate forests of Patagonia, monitos del monte are the sole seed dispersal agent of the mistletoe species Tristerix corymbosus. The seeds pass undamaged through their digestive tract and are deposited directly onto the bark of host trees. In fact, passage though their gut is necessary for the seeds to germinate and important for seedling recruitment. This mutualism may have evolved over the last 70 million years, and remains important for biodiversity today. Unlike other small mammals that may destroy consumed plant seeds, monitos del monte can disperse seeds from the majority of fleshy fruit-producing plant species in their region, including Aristotelia chilensis and Azara microphylla. Mistletoe, a parasitic climbing plant species, is important for maintaining understory plant diversity and facilitating ecosystem processes such as nutrient cycling. Additionally, nearly 100 families of birds and mammals rely on mistletoe for fruit, nectar and nesting material. Disruption of the mistletoe-monito del monte mutualism could cause extinctions, decreased biodiversity and increased susceptibility to drought. Monitos del monte are also hosts to blood parasites (Hepatozoon) and ticks (Ixodes neuquenensis). (Amico and Aizen, 2000; Amico, et al., 2009; Garcia, et al., 2009; Watson, 2001)
Monitos del monte play a key role in seed dispersal for fleshy fruit-producing plants in temperate forests; this mutualism is important for the maintenance of biodiversity. Monitos del monte may also be important for reducing insect pests. (Amico, et al., 2009; Beer, 2003; Watson, 2001)
In Chile, there are several superstitions about monitos del monte. For example, they have been erroneously described as bad luck, venomous and progenitors of disease. In extreme cases, people have burned their houses down after seeing monitos del monte in their places of residence. However, monitos del monte have no actual negative effects on humans. (Beer, 2003; Marshall, 1978)
Although currently classified as near threatened on the IUCN Red List, monitos del monte are threatened by an increasing number of anthropogenic activities. The introduction of species such as domestic cats, deforestation and cattle grazing are associated with decreased abundances of monitos del monte and habitat fragmentation. A study of forest fragmentation found that human activity can reduce preferred tree types and increase susceptibility to predation. Monitos del monte, like many small mammals, are unable to cross even small deforested areas. They are also hosts to blood parasites (Hepatozoon) and ticks (Ixodes neuquenensis), which can further reduce the numbers of these important marsupials. (Amico, et al., 2009; Marin-Vial, et al., 2007; Merino, et al., 2009; Rodriguez-Cabal, et al., 2007)
Monitos del monte belong to the most geographically restricted order of extant mammals. They are called a "living fossil" because they are the single extant representative of the microbiothere lineage. The oldest microbiothere may be a Khasia species, a fossil from Bolivia between 60.4 and 59.2 million years old. (Amico and Aizen, 2000; Beer, 2003; Bozinovic, et al., 2004; Meredith, et al., 2008; Spotorno, et al., 1997)
Monitos del monte are more closely related to Australian marsupials than those from American. Two recent phylogenetic studies concluded that monitos del monte are a sister group to all other australidelphians (members of the orders Peramelemorphia, Notoryctemorphia, Dasyuromorphia, and Diprotodontia). Microbiotheria likely diverged from this Australasian clade approximately 67.4 million years ago. Although morphological studies nest Dromiciops within the Australasian clade as well, many of the morphological characters are believed to be homoplasious or plesiomorphic. (Beck, 2008; Meredith, et al., 2008; Sanchez-Villagra, et al., 2007)
Leila Siciliano (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.
Jennifer Chick (author), Case Western Reserve University, Darin Croft (editor, instructor), Case Western Reserve University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.
uses sound to communicate
young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.
Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
an animal that mainly eats meat
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.
An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
a species whose presence or absence strongly affects populations of other species in that area such that the extirpation of the keystone species in an area will result in the ultimate extirpation of many more species in that area (Example: sea otter).
Having one mate at a time.
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
active during the night
rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.
breeding is confined to a particular season
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
uses touch to communicate
that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).
Living on the ground.
uses sight to communicate
reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.
Amico, G., M. Aizen. 2000. Mistletoe seed dispersal by a marsupial. Nature, 408: 929-930.
Amico, G., M. Rodriguez-Cabal, M. Aizen. 2009. The potential key seed-dispersing role of the arboreal marsupial Dromiciops gliroides. Acta Oecologica, 35: 8-13.
Beck, R. 2008. A dated phylogeny of marsupials using a molecular supermatrix and multiple fossil constraints. Journal of Mammalogy, 89(1): 175-189.
Beer, A. 2003. Microbiotheria: monitos del monte (Microbiotheriidae). Pp. 273-275 in M Hutchins, D Kleiman, V Geist, M McDale, eds. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Vol. 12, Mammals I. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group.
Garcia, D., M. Rodriquez-Cabal, G. Amico. 2009. Seed dispersal by a frugivorous marsupial shapes the spatial scale of a mistletoe population. Journal of Ecology, 97: 217-229.
Jaksic, F., J. Jimenez, R. Medel, P. Marquet. 1990. Habitat and diet of Darwin's fox (Pseudalopex fulvipes) on the Chilean mainland. Journal of Mammalogy, 71(2): 246-248.
Kelt, D., D. Martinez. 1989. Notes on distribution and ecology of two marsupials endemic to the Valdivian forests of southern South America. Journal of Mammalogy, 70(1): 220-224.
Marin-Vial, P., D. Gonzalez-Acuna, J. Celis-Diez, P. Cattan, A. Guglielmone. 2007. Presence of Ixodes neuquenensis Ringuelet, 1947 (Acari: Ixodidae) on the endangered Neotropical marsupial monito del monte (Dromiciops gliroides Thomas, 1894, Microbiotheria: Microbiotheriidae) at Chiloe Island, Chile. European Journal of Wildlife Research, 53: 73-75.
Marshall, L. 1978. Dromiciops australis. American Society of Mammalogists, 99: 1-5.
Meredith, R., M. Westerman, J. Case, M. Springer. 2008. A phylogeny and timescale for marsupial evolution based on sequences for five nuclear genes. Journal of Mammalian Evolution, 15: 1-36.
Merino, S., R. Vasquez, J. Martinez, J. Celis-Diez, L. Gutierrez-Jimenez, S. Ippi, I. Sanchez-Monsalvez, J. Martinez-de la Puente. 2009. Molecular characterization of an ancient Hepatozoon species parasitizing the "living fossil" marsupial "monito del monte" Dromiciops gliroides from Chile. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 98: 568-576.
Munoz-Pedreros, A., B. Lang, M. Bretos, P. Meserve. 2005. Reproduction and development of Dromiciops gliroides (Marsupialia: Microbiotheriidae) in temperate rainforests of southern Chile. Gayana (Concepcion), 69(2): 225-233.
Nowak, R. 1999. Order Microbiotheria. Pp. 39-40 in Walker's Mammals of the World, Vol. Volume I, 6th edition. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Patterson, B., P. Meserve, B. Lang. 1989. Distribution and abundance of small mammals along an elevational transect in temperate rainforests of Chile. Journal of Mammalogy, 70(1): 67-78.
Patterson, B., M. Rogers. 2007. Order Microbiotheria Ameghino, 1889. Pp. 117-119 in A Gardner, ed. Mammals of South America, Vol. Volume I: Marsupials, Xenarthrans, Shrews, and Bats. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Rau, J., D. Martinez, J. Low, M. Tilleria. 1995. Predation by gray foxes (Lycalopex griseus) on cursorial, scansorial, and arboreal small mammals in a protected wildlife area of southern Chile. Revista Chilena de Historia Natural, 68(3): 333-340.
Rodriguez-Cabal, M., M. Aizen, A. Novaro. 2007. Habitat fragmentation disrupts a plant-disperser mutualism in the temperate forest of South America. Biological Conservation, 139: 195-202.
Rodriguez-Cabal, M., G. Amico, A. Novaro, M. Aizen. 2008. Population characteristics of Dromiciops gliroides (Philippi, 1893), an endemic marsupial of the temperate forest of Patagonia. Mammalian Biology, 73: 74-76.
Sanchez-Villagra, M., S. Ladeveze, I. Horovitz, C. Argot, J. Hooker, T. Macrini, T. Martin, S. Moore-Fay, C. de Muizon, T. Schmelzle, R. Asher. 2007. Exceptionally preserved North American Paleogene metatherians: adaptations and discovery of a major gap in the opossum fossil record. Biology Letters, 3: 318-322.
Spotorno, A., J. Marin, M. Yevenes, L. Walker, R. Fernandez-Donoso, J. Pincheira, M. Berrios, R. Palma. 1997. Chromosome divergences among American marsupials and the Australian affinities of the American Dromiciops. Journal of Mammalian Evolution, 4(4): 259-269.
Trejo, A., V. Ojeda. 2004. Diet of barn owls (Tyto alba) in forested habitats of northwestern Argentine Patagonia. Ornitologia Neotropical, 15(3): 307-311.
Watson, D. 2001. Mistletoe--a key resource in forests and woodlands worldwide. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 32: 219-249.