I was doing a quiz on sporcle (a great trivia website, you should check it out) where you had to name one animal from each order of mammals. I did pretty well but missed a couple, among them the order Microbiotheria, of which the monito del monte is the only extant member. When you play a quiz on sporcle they show what answers you’ve missed, and I remember looking through and nodding to myself  saying ‘oh tree shrews, yeah that makes sense, oh of course, how could I mss aardvarks!’ and so on. But when I got to the monito del monte I was thrown for a bit of a loop. I’ve heard of most mammals so to see one with such an outlandish name piqued my interest. So of course I decided to blog about it.

Turns out the monito del monte is a small tree-dwelling marsupial that lives in South America. Who even knew there were marsupials in South America? I didn’t. I thought all marsupials lived in Australia. Turns out there are around 100 species of marsupial in the Americas, which I really should have known. The monito del monte though, is unusual in that it is more closely related to Australian marsupials than New World ones.

A monito del monte hanging out on a tree branch

Monitos del monte (yes, that is the correct plural form) live in many different types of forest, though they seem to prefer higher elevations. They are very small, weighing up to 42g. The monito del monte uses its partially prehensile tail, big hands and feel to adeptly move through the trees in search of its preferred food, insects. They will also consume fruits, most importantly mistletoe. This relationship with mistletoe is extremely important; monitos del monte are the sole dispersers of mistletoe seeds. The monitos do not damage the seeds after ingesting them, and deposit the seeds right onto host trees. The mistletoe seeds require digestion from monitos del monte in order to germinate.

Another interesting thing about monitos del monte is their ability to fall into short-term torpor as food becomes unavailable (torpor is a metabolic state much like hibernation, in which the body’s temperature is lowered and metabolic activity slowed to conserve energy). The monitos del monte typically enter a prolonged state of torpor during winter and spring, when temperatures are cold and food is hard to find. This is particularly important for small animals like the monito del monte, as they have high metabolic rates and lose heat rapidly.

A little bit of a size comparison. The snail is probably bigger than garden ones we're used to but still...
A little bit of a size comparison. The snail is probably bigger than garden ones we’re used to but still…

Once they are two years old monitos del monte breed, forming pairs shortly before the breeding season. The females make a nest of bamboo and sticks in which to have her young. The babies are born 3-4 weeks later, and then make their way into their mother’s pouch. Inside the pouch the mother has four teats, which the young remain attached to for the next two months. Occasional litters of five young have been reported, which probably doesn’t go to well for that fifth baby, since there are only four teats. Maybe they have a rotational system or something. Or maybe they draw straws. Once the young are able to leave the pouch, they switch between pouch rides and piggy backs, clinging to their mother’s back while she moves through the trees.

I was really surprised to see a mammal with such a crazy name as the monito del monte. I am the first to admit I don’t have a complete knowledge of animals, but I  always thought I had a pretty good handle on mammals. But I’m always happy to learn something new, and now I can blog about it too! So hooray to the monito del monte, which means ‘little mountain monkey’ in Spanish, just so you know.