The white eared opossum, or Timbu, as it is known here in the region, is famous for its unpleasant smell which emanates from its armpits when threatened. It is a type of marsupial, similar to kangaroos, which have a ventral pocket in which their mammary glands are located, and where the embryos live for approximately four months of their development.
Commonly known as timbu, cassaco, mucura, saruê or saguiré, these animals have a large head with three stripes, an elongated snout, ears covered with a fine layer of hair which varies from white to black, and a thick tail becoming thin and almost hairless at its tip; they are generally known all over Brazil as nocturnal animals.
The timbu lives in forests, savannas, wetlands and shrub lands, and even in large urban centers. It measures between 60 and 90 centimeters and weighs on average 1.6 kilos. It is omnivorous, with a varied diet of insects, snakes, fruits, rodents and birds.
They appear to be quite solitary, normally getting together only for mating two or three times in the year, and reproducing from ten to twenty offspring. They use their well-developed tail and claws to capture their prey, and with dexterity move through tree branches, constructing nests with dry leaves and branches in holes or hollows of old wood.
These animals are of no danger to humans, although many are frightened by their appearance and stealth. In fact, they usually only show their teeth or growl when threatened, sometimes even pretending to be dead. They are essentially ecosystem collaborators, contributing to the control of agricultural pests, as well as being excellent dispersers of seeds via their feces.
The popular saying, “drunk as a skunk,” comes from the fact that they are sanguine animals, and can “get drunk” on the blood of their victims; sometimes one can even come across them in the morning totally inebriated. This is why, says legend, you should leave a mug of pinga (sugar cane rum) in the chicken coop, thus drugging them and saving your birds!
Here in Pipa these animals are welcome because they contribute to maintaining the ecosystem. Although you can find them in some urban places, they are mostly seen in predominantly forested places, such as the Ecological Sanctuary.
It is always advisable, therefore, as in all cases of regional wildlife,to respect these harmless creatures.
The name “gambá” originates from the tupi-guarani language, in which the word “gã’bá” or “guaambá” means “hollow mammary,” a reference to marsupials whose ventral pockets contain their mammary glands and which protect their young during part of their development.