Monito Del Monte
(Dromiciops gliroides)
The monito del monte or "mountain monkey" (a marsupial rather than a monkey) is regarded by scientists as a living fossil, because it is the only surviving member of an otherwise extinct lineage dating back more than 40 million years. Only slightly larger than a mouse, this little marsupial is an excellent climber. The base of the prehensile – or grasping – tail is capable of storing fat, which enables the animals to hibernate during the winter when food is scarce. The main threats facing the species are thought to be habitat loss and fragmentation.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Habitat protection is the main conservation measure needed.
Chile and Argentina.
Local superstitions about the monito del monte maintain that it is very bad luck to see it or have one enter the house. Some residents have even been known to burn their homes to the ground after seeing this harmless little marsupial running about in the house.
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Microbiotheria
Family: Microbiotheriidae
The monito del monte is considered to be a living fossil, because it is the only surviving member of an entire order of marsupials. There has been much controversy over the taxonomic placement of this species. It was once thought to be a member of the Didelphidae. However, recent molecular evidence indicates that the species is more closely related to Australian rather than to South American marsupials. The estimated time of divergence between the Microbiotheria (Dromiciops) and its closest Australian relatives (Peramelemorphia, Dasyuromorphia and Notoryctemorphia) is estimated to be 46 million years. This coincides with the geological separation of Antarctica and Australia, suggesting that the phylogenetic divergence occurred as a result of geographical separation. Related fossil species date back to the early Paleocene of Bolivia (almost 65 million years ago).
Head and body length: approx. 83-130mm
Tail length: approx. 90-132mm
Weight: approx. 16-42 g
This small marsupial is only slightly larger than a mouse. It has short, dense, silky fur which is coloured brown above with a number of ashy white patches, and paler below. The ears are short and furry, and there are black rings around the eyes. The prehensile tail is covered with hairs that match the body colour at the base and become darker brown towards the tip.
The species is an excellent climber and is thought to be predominantly arboreal, although it has also been observed to shelter underground. It is nocturnal, and sleeps during the day in a small round nest made of sticks and water-repellent bamboo leaves, lined with grasses and mosses. The nests may be under rocks or fallen tree trunks, in hollow trees, on branches, or suspended in lianas or patches of bamboo (Chusquea spp.). The diet consists mainly of insects and other invertebrates, although some fruit may also be eaten. The species is capable of laying down fat deposits in the base of its tail, and can double its body weight in one week. It is thought to hibernate for up to six months during the winter when food is scarce, living off these fat reserves. The duration of hibernation is unknown, and some animals have been found torpid at other times of the year. The species is thought to live in pairs, at least during the mating season (October-December). Females with young have been recorded from November to May. Litters contain between one and five young, which are initially carried in the female’s well developed pouch. After leaving the pouch, the young are nursed in the nest and carried on the mother’s back during nocturnal foraging trips. They remain in loose association with the mother even after they are weaned. Both sexes reach sexual maturity in their second year. The lifespan of this species in the wild is thought to be around 2 years.
Inhabits dense, cool, humid forests, particularly areas containing thickets of Chilean bamboo (Chusquea spp.).
Occurs from the vicinity of Concepción south to Chiloe Island in south-central Chile and east to the provinces of Neuquen and Rio Negro in Argentina. The species has recently also been reported from Maule region in Los Queules National Reserve and Reserva Nacional Los Ruiles, about 200 km north of its known distribution near Concepción. The populations in this region are thought to be very small and possibly relictual, as the species is thought to have migrated further south at the end of the last Ice Age glaciation.
Population Estimate
Population Trend
Classified as Vulnerable (VU A1c) on the 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Outside of protected areas this species is threatened by loss of its restricted habitat. The presence of the black rat (Rattus rattus) also represents a threat. Habitat fragmentation is occurring in the northernmost parts of its range (Maule region) as native forests are being replaced with the introduced conifer (Pinus radiata).
Conservation Underway
The species occurs in the newly-created 147,500 acre Valdivian Coastal Reserve (est. March 2005) which is managed by WWF, Conservation International (CI), the Nature Conservancy in Chile, and various local partners. It has also been reported from Los Queules National Reserve and Reserva Nacional Los Ruiles.

Researchers from the Burke Museum (USA) are working with Chilean scientists to study the ecology and behaviour of the monito del monte at the field station of the Senda Darwin Foundation (SDF) on the island of Chiloé. Long-term monitoring of populations and a study of diet and habitat use will help to define the role the species plays in its forest ecosystem. This information can be used to inform future conservation actions.

This project aims to evaluate the use of Dromiciops gliroides as an indicator species for fragmented forests.

Conservation Proposed
Protection of the forest fragments in which the species occurs (e.g. Maulino Forest in the north of the species’ range, in which Los Queules National Reserve and Los Ruiles National Reserve are the only fragments currently protected) .
Associated EDGE Community members

Jaime is a Chilean native with broad interests in conservation ecology and ecological studies of Chilean vertebrates

Francisco is currently developing a project on the threatened monito del monte

Bozinovic, F., Ruiz, G. and Rosenmann, M. 2004. Energetics and torpor of a South American “living fossil”, the Microbiotheriid Dromiciops gliroides. J. Comp. Physiol. B. 174: 293-297.

The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture: Ecology, Biogeography, and Conservation of a Rare Marsupial in Chile's Southern Temperate Rainforest

Hershkovitz, P. 1999. Dromiciops gliroides Thomas 1894, Last of the Microbiotheria (Marsupialia), with a Review of the Microbiotheriidae. Fieldiana: Zoology 93: 1-60.

Lobos, G., Charrier, A., Carrasco, G. and Palma, R. E. 2005. Presence of Dromiciops gliroides (Microbiotheria: Microbiotheriidae) in the deciduous forests of central Chile. Mammalian Biology 70(6): 376-380.

The Nature Conservancy

New World Marsupial Specialist Group. 1996. Dromiciops gliroides. In: IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 09 August 2006.

Nilsson, M. A., Arnason, U., Spencer, P. B. S. and Janke, A. 2004. Marsupial relationships and a timeline for marsupial radiation in South Gondwana. Gene 340: 189-196.

Nowak, R.M. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

Saavedra, B. and Simonetti, J. A. 2001. New Records of Dromiciops gliroides (Microbiotheria: Microbiotheriidae) and Geoxus valdivianus (Rodentia: Muridae) in central Chile: their implications for biogeography and conservation. Mammalia 65(1): 96-100.

Springer, M. S., Westerman, M., Kavanagh, J. R., Burk, A. Woodburne, M. O., Kao, D. J. and Krajewski, C. 1998. The Origin of the Australasian marsupial fauna and the phylogenetic affinities of the enigmatic monito del monte and marsupial mole. R. Soc. Lond. B. 265: 2381-2386.

Tyndale-Biscoe, H. 2005. Life of Marsupials. Csiro Publishing. Australia.

Distribution map based on data provided by the IUCN Global Mammal Assessment.

if you can provide new information to update this species account or to correct any errors, please email us at info@edgeofexistence.org

Forum comments
  1. Anonymous

    the animal is so cute

    Posted 8 years ago #

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