Thursday, April 25, 2013
nominated by Veronica of ScrappyRat
Written by Amy Ostrout,
Courtesy of WildLife Welfare
The Opossum (that's the correct way to say it) is the only species of marsupials that is native to North America. The female opossum has a bifurcated uterus. Opossums give birth 13 days after mating. When an opossum is born, it is approximately the size of a kidney bean and is still very premature. They are born in groups of 5 to 20.
During the birthing process, the mom licks a path to her pouch for the babies to follow. She has 13 nipples in a horseshoe shape with twelve teats around the edge and one in the middle. It is a first come, first survive.
As the baby arrives in the pouch, it will latch onto a nipple which it swallowed into the stomach as opossum babies do not suckle. The nipple then swells preventing the baby from falling off. The baby will stay latched onto the mother for approximately 60 days.
When the baby is about 2 months old it is equivalent to other new born mammals. Mother and baby opossums stay together for many months. The babies stay with the mother until they can take care of themselves at about 5-6 months of age.
Opossums are omnivores and eat a variety of plants, reptiles, insects, eggs, carrion, and fruit. Their home range is approximately 12 acres which can be closer to 48 acres when food is scarce. They have 50 teeth, which is more than any other land mammal, and will display them in abig “smile” whenever they feel threatened.
They have a prehensile tail which can be used as additional gripping power. The marsupial is capable of hanging from their tails only when young.
They are relatively easy going animals preferring to "play opossum” rather than fight. This is an involuntary response to fear. The opossum flops over, opens its mouth and drools which makes it look sick. The heart rate slows when a substance is released into the bloodstream causing the muscle to contract. A thin stool is also released and a rotten smelling musk is exuded. A mother opossum with babies will not “play dead.”
Though sometimes referred to as "dirty animals,” they stay incredibly clean by licking and grooming themselves like cats. Opossums grow to be the size of an adult cat and can live as long as 7 years though in the wild most opossums live to be between 2-3 years old. Opossums use abandoned skunk and groundhog burrows for their homes.
If you find an injured or orphaned baby opossum…
a rehabber must be contacted. Opossum moms will not return to look for lost babies.
If you should find a mother opossum dead on the road, check her pouch for babies and look for any that may have been thrown out of the pouch during the accident. If the mother was attacked and shaken by a dog, babies may also be thrown from the pouch. Pouch babies are attached to nipples and will need to be gently pulled off. Place injured or orphaned babies into a towel lined box with a heat source to keep them warm. Never give food or fluids. Call a rehabilitator as soon as possible.
* Marsupials lived 60 million years ago.
* Indians called them "apasum" meaning white animal.
* Capt John Smith, who settled Jamestown in 1607, was the first to use the word "opossum."
* "Possums" live in Australia and are not related to the Virginia Opossum.
* They have a natural immunity to snake venom.
Many people falsely assume opossums carry the rabies virus. While it is true that any mammal can get rabies, the possibility of an opossum carrying rabies is extremely rare.
It is believed the opossum’s low body temperature (94-97 degrees) makes it difficult for the rabies virus to live in the opossum’s body.
According to the NC Division of Public Health 2008 Rabies Report, there were only 2 cases of rabies involving opossums occurring between the 5 year period of 2004-2008.