What is a “tlacuache”?

Even though I am a native Spanish speaker, this question bugged me for many years. Back when I was a kid, I was fascinated by animals of all kinds. I also was fortunate enough to have access to many books and encyclopedias, so I would devour all information I could regarding animals. That’s why I was so surprised the first time I heard about “tlacuaches”! How could I have never read about these creatures? It didn’t help much when I asked my great uncle what animal he was talking about, since all I got was a vague description. It probably didn’t help much that he was living in his family’s ranch, so animals like that were rather ordinary in the area.

It was only years later that I finally figured out “tlacuache”

was the regional name of what is known in other places as a “zarigüeya“,
or possum. It turns out it derives from tlacuatzin
, the word in náhuatl
that aztecs used for this animal.

Possum carrying grapes

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense that so many places in México, as well as indigenous plants and animals, have names that differ from those in other Spanish-speaking regions. Most of them originated in the tongues spoken there before Spaniards arrived, and were later “hispanified” and adopted. I have noticed some common themes, like the combination “tl” in words derived from náhuatl.


  1. When I saw the word “tlacuaches” it brought to my mind that it would be something Aztec or Mayan or some native tongue. We have a good number of Guatemalans and some Mexicans in our area, and the word sounds like something that would be in that native kind of tongue. We have a Mexican restaurant in the area where I live that is called “Tlaquepaque.” The first part of the word is very similar to “tlacuaches.” I never really thought to ask anyone what it means… ¿Sabes lo que significa? Just wondering…

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