Of the animal called churcha (opossum).[1]

Translated by Kristine (Kasey) Drake ’23

In Castilla del Oro, on the Mainland, especially in Darien and in many parts where they speak the Cueva language [an extinct indigenous language spoken in present-day Panama], there is a small animal the size of a medium-sized rabbit. Its snout is very pointed, its fangs and teeth are very sharp, and its long tail is like that of a rat, as are its ears as well. Its thin fur is a sandy color, almost like that of a fox, with brownish-gray spots in parts. These churchas or opossums in the Mainland, like the martens in Castile, sneak into homes during the night to eat the chickens or to at least slit their throats and suck their blood; so they are much more harmful, because if they would kill just one and get their fill they would do less damage, but they sometimes slit the throat of fifteen and twenty or many more if they are not stopped. One night in my home in Darien one of these churchas or opossums slit the throats of fourteen chickens, at a time when they were each worth three pesos of gold and more (and to be honest I did not have the appetite for so many birds in just one day). A notable fact about these animals, and worthy of admiration, is that if they are nursing their young while hunting for chickens the female will bring her young tucked into her breast as I will describe. A pouch made of its own skin opens along the middle of its belly, as would result by joining two folds of a cape, making a sack; and that slit in which the folds come together is so tight that none of the offspring fall off, even as it runs or jumps (Lam. 5a; Fig. 4a.). When she wants, she opens that pouch and releases the children and they walk on the ground, emulating the mother in her wrongdoing, sucking the blood of the chickens they kill. And when she feels she is heard and someone comes to check with candlelight to see what caused the chickens to be disturbed and cluck, the churcha or opossum quickly puts her joeys or babies in her pouch or sack and they climb in, and she escapes if she finds a way out. If she is trapped she will climb to the top of the house or chicken coop to hide; and since they are often taken alive and sometimes they are killed, I have observed very closely what I have described, and one finds the babies in that pouch, where the female has teats and the children can nurse.

I have seen some of these churchas or opossums and everything I have stated, and they have killed my chickens in the way that I described. This churcha or opossum is an animal that smells bad, and its neck, hair and tail are as I have said.

[1] The animal described in this chapter is most likely the Panama slender opossum or Marmosops Invictus (also known as the slaty slender mouse opossum, a species in the family Didelphidae. It is endemic to Panama. [English Editor’s note].