What free-ranging animals do at the zoo: a study of the behavior and habitat use of opossums (Didelphis virginiana) on the grounds of the St. Louis Zoo



Studies of urban wildlife are important because they can give us insight into both how animals adapt to novel environments and how some species survive and prosper in human-dominated landscapes. Urban zoological institutions provide an ideal setting for research on such species. We report on a study of the behavior and ecology of opossums (Didelphis virginiana) on the grounds of the St. Louis Zoological Park. We used radio tracking to investigate the movement patterns and den site use of opossums on the grounds of the zoo and compared the results to data available for opossums elsewhere. We find that urban opossums in the St. Louis zoo have smaller home ranges and move shorter distances than their rural counterparts. We suggest that increased food availability and decreased risk of predation might explain such differences, and we suspect that conditions are even more favorable to opossums in a zoological setting than in cities in general. Our findings illustrate that there is much to be learned from scientific study of the free-living animals found on zoological park grounds. Zoo Biol 00:1–17, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.