What is a Yapok? - Habitat, Behavior & Facts

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

Yapok is another name for the water opossum. In this lesson, you will learn about the yapok's behavior and habitat and we will look at some facts about these interesting creatures.

A Yapok By Another Name

Have you ever seen an opossum or a picture of one? Try to imagine one that is much smaller, with sleek, waterproof fur. That is about what a yapok looks like. Yapok is another name for the species Chironectes minimus, also known as the water opossum. Yapoks are smaller than their counterparts, with an average length of about 14 inches. An average Virginia opossum, by comparison, is about 10 inches longer.

Other than the size difference and the fact that they have waterproof fur, yapoks look a lot like the opossums seen in the United States. They have short gray fur and long skinny tails. However, that is about where the similarity ends.

Yapoks are similar in appearance to their more northern cousin opossums
Yapok drawing


Yapoks can be found throughout Central and South America, from Mexico all the way down to Argentina. As the name 'water opossum' implies, they prefer to live in wet areas. They build their nests along the banks of freshwater rivers and lakes, and they typically live in or near tropical and sub-tropical forests. They prefer warm climates, which you can tell from their distribution (Mexico to Argentina is a generally warm portion of the world).

Yapoks build their nests underground. They dig steep tunnels that end in a nest or den area, which is like a small, dug-out cave. This is where they sleep, hide from predators, and raise their young.


Yapoks are marsupials, meaning they give birth to live young and raise them in a pouch on their stomachs. Other examples of marsupials include kangaroos and wallabies. Water opossums are very solitary. The only time they interact with other members of their species (aside from chasing them away) is during mating season and when a mother raises her young.


Male yapoks will often protect the female until the babies are born, but he does not help raise them. The babies stay in the mother's pouch until they are about two months old. After that, they are developed enough to leave the pouch and will spend a while longer with the mother, traveling around on her back. There can be anywhere from one to five babies in a litter, or nest.


Since they spend their lives near the water, it makes sense that the yapok's food comes from the water as well. They eat a variety of aquatic, or water-based, animals, including fish, frogs, water insects and larvae, and crabs and other crustaceans. They forage underwater by closing their eyes and ears and feeling around. Their sensitive whiskers and fingers help them find and grab their prey.

Interesting Facts

Yapoks are very interesting creatures. For one thing, they are the only aquatic marsupial! As a result, their pouch is actually waterproof. This means the mother yapok can swim around with her babies in her pouch, and they are protected while they are still developing. This, along with their webbed hind feet and waterproof fur, makes yapoks very well-adapted to spend much of their time in the water.

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