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RARE ACCOUNT OF THE VIRGINIA OPOSSUM (DIDELPHIS VIRGINIANA) FROM TRANS-PECOS TEXAS.

The Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana Kerr 1792) occurs throughout most of Texas where it is a common inhabitant of deciduous woodlands, prairies, marshes, and farmlands (Schmidly & Bradley 2016). However, in the xeric Trans-Pecos region of West Texas this marsupial is uncommon (Schmidly 1977), and is considered one of the rarest of all mammals in the region (Stangl et al. 1994).

The first published account of D. virganiana from Trans-Pecos Texas originated from several ranchers who claimed that one individual was trapped in the area of what is now Big Bend National Park (Brewster County) in "about 1921" (Borell & Bryant 1942). The first specimen-verified documentation of the Virginia Opossum from the Trans-Pecos is from a single specimen taken from El Paso (El Paso County) in 1924 (Schmidly 1977). Based on communications with trappers "a few" additional individuals were noted from the Big Bend area of Brewster County in the 1930s (Borell & Bryant 1942).

The Virginia Opossum was not documented in the region again until 1987 when a single specimen was collected from the Stockton Plateau at approximately 35 km south and 6 km west of Sheffield, Terrell County (Hollander et al. 1990). Four years later (in 1991), an individual was collected from approximately 38 km southeast of Fort Davis near the southern edge of the Davis Mountains, Jeff Davis County (Hollander & Hogan 1992). This was the last documented record of the Virginia Opossum from the Trans-Pecos region prior to this narrative (Fig. 1).

This report presents the first record of the Virginia Opossum from Trans-Pecos Texas in the last 25 years. Moreover, it documents the first occurrence of the species from the northcentral portion of the Trans-Pecos, as well as the first record of this mammal from Reeves County. The record fills a relatively large gap in the documented distribution of this species in the central Trans-Pecos (Fig. 1).

A single adult Virginia Opossum of undetermined sex was captured at Balmorhea State Park, Reeves County, Texas (UTM coordinates 13 R 0615973E 3424037N; Fig. 2), on 25 October 2016. The animal was taken in a Havahart[R] live-trap set by personnel of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in a park-facilities building where the animal previously had been observed. A voucher photograph of the specimen was obtained (Fig. 2) and, due to the extreme rarity of the species in the region, the individual was released unharmed in the general area of capture.

The building in which the animal was captured is situated adjacent to a drainage of Solomon Springs. This drainage and its attendant cienega support Olney Bulrush (Scirpus olneyi), cattails (Typha sp.), sedges (Cyperus sp.), bulrush (Scirpus sp.), and Common Reed (Phragmites australis). The well-drained soils of the upland areas immediately surrounding the cienega support shrubland dominated by Alkali Sacaton (Sporobolos airoides) and Four Wing Saltbush (Atriplex canescens), and include Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosd), Big Alkali Sacaton (Sporobolos wrightii), and Tobosa (Hilaria muticd). Riparian trees occurring on higher ground along the periphery of the cienega include Rio Grande Cottonwood (Populus deltoides var. wislizenii) and willows (Salix sp.). The opossum was captured in a well-manicured section of the park dominated by Bermuda Grass and cottonwood trees.

Although the Virginia Opossum is known for its tolerance of a broad range of ecological conditions (Gardner 1973, 2003), it tends to avoid dry desert habitats typical of Trans-Pecos Texas (Schmidly 1977; Schmidly & Bradley 2016). It has been proposed that in the Trans-Pecos region D. virginiana is restricted to riparian habitats (Schmidly 1977; Stangl et al. 1994; Schmidly & Bradley 2016), and the species likely utilizes these rather limited riparian zones as dispersal corridors within this arid region of Texas (Hollander et al. 1990; Schmidly and Bradley 2016). Having been captured near wooded streamside vegetation, the individual reported herein supports this notion.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

We thank Nicolas Havlik for his efforts in generating the distribution map, and Richard W. Manning and Jim R. Goetze for constructive comments made on an earlier version of this manuscript.

LITERATURE CITED

Borell. A. & M. D. Bryant. 1942. Mammals of the Big Bend area of Texas. Univ. California Publ. Zool., 48:1-62.

Gardner, A. L. 1973. The systematics of the Genus Didelphis (Marsupialia: Didelphidae) in North and Middle America. Spec. Publ., Mus., Texas Tech Univ., 4:1-81.

Gardner, A. L. 2003. Opossum. Pp. 3-29, in Wild mammals of North America: Biology management, and conservation, 2nd edition (G. A. Feldhamer, B. C. Thompson, and J. A. Chapman, eds.). The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, Baltimore, Maryland, xiii+1216 pp.

Hollander, R. R., C. Jones, J. K. Jones, Jr. & R. W. Manning. 1990. Preliminary analysis of the effects of the Pecos River on the geographic distribution of small mammals in western Texas. J. Big Bend Studies, 2:97-107.

Hollander, R. R. & K. M. Hogan. 1992. Occurrence of the opossum, Didelphis virginiana Kerr, in the Trans-Pecos of Texas. Texas J. Sci., 44(3):127-128.

Schmidly, D. J. 1977. The Mammals of Trans-Pecos Texas, including Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Texas A&M Univ. Press, College Station, xii+225 pp.

Schmidly, D. J. & R. D. Bradley. 2016. The Mammals of Texas, 7th Edition. Univ. Texas Press, Austin, 694 pp.

Stangl, F. B., Jr., W. W. Dalquest & R. R. Hollander. 1994. Evolution of a desert mammalian fauna. Midwestern State Univ. Press, Wichita Falls, Texas, xix+264 pp.

Franklin D. Yancey, II (1) and Mark W. Lockwood (2)

(1) Oakhurst Center of Reedley College P.O. Box 1910, 40241 Hwy41, Oakhurst, CA 93644

(2) Texas Parks and Wildlife Department P.O. Box 1079, Fort Davis, TX 79734

FDY at: frank.yancey@scccd.edu
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Author:Yancey, Franklin D.; Lockwood, Mark W.
Publication:The Texas Journal of Science
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1U7TX
Date:Dec 1, 2017
Words:927
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