Tlacuache (La quat chay — silent T) is the local Quintana Roo name given to the Zangueya (zadee way a) or as most Americans will know them, the common possum. The animals we have here in Mexico are the same “possums” that are in the United States, with the exception of misnaming them.
The possum, as Americans call them, are properly called opossum.
A possum is an Australian marsupial with four primary color variations of silver-gray, brown, black, and gold. The ears of a possum are larger than that of the opossum and their fur is softer and much more bushy.
The key differential, however, is the Australian possum has a bushy tail covered in fur, hence the common name brushtail possum.
The opossum, which is what we have here in North America, is a marsupial with a white face and grayish-white body. Their fur is coarse. They have sharp teeth like a cat, but the primary distinguishing feature of an opossum is its bare rat-like tail.
Tlacuaches are nocturnal, so seeing them during the day does occur, but it’s not common. They begin to stir around dusk and will slowly make their way around to look for food. Like any animal around a full garbage can, they can’t seem to help themselves, however, they hunt more than scavenge.
Too many people around these parts misunderstand them and kill them, often by leaving poisoned food out for them to eat. Many locals believe the tlacuache carries rabies and are related to rats, two urban myths that often leads to their demise.
The truth is the tlacuache is an extremely useful night critter to have roaming around your neighborhood. They are an absolute asset to local environments because in competing for food, they kill things like cockroaches, rats and snakes. Themselves, the eat nuts, fruit and insects.
Every morning for more than a year I wake up to several cherries (off the Mexican cherry trees) squished on the concrete outside my back door. That’s the work of my neighborhood tlacuache. While I initially disliked sweeping away his mess every morning (the sweetness of the cherries attracts ants), I’ve grown used to the added daily task and automatically grab a broom each day before the sun hits the spot and releases even more cherry juice.
If you ever run into a tlacuache at night the first thing you’ll notice is how shy they are. They run away very quickly and are certainly more afraid of you than you are of them. They won’t chase you or your pets, but they have extremely sharp teeth, and like any wild animal, will bite if threatened.
If you dislike the looks of the tlacauache, you’re not alone. While the babies are super cute, the adults are pretty rough-looking. But keep them in mind the next time you encounter mice or cockroaches or even snakes around your neighborhood. You’ll wish you had one then!