Sunday, March 9, 2014

OPOSSUM-the Marsupial, the Myth, the Legend.


The Virginia Opossum, Didelphis virginiana, is pretty low on our list of "Most Adored" and loved North American mammals. This only North American representative of order Marsupial has adapted over several million years to survive in our northern United States climate. An omnivore that includes snakes in it's diet has also developed a resistance to snake venom and is 8 times less likely to carry the rabies virus than woodland canines.  As a marsupial, the female carries her hairless, sightless newborn in her pouch for about 2 months until the honeybee sized babies are able to come out and cling to the mother's fur while she searches for food and shelter.  A litter of these little "Joeys" averages 9-10 young. Commonly known as simply "possum" the opossum has one of the shortest lifespans for mammals their size.  A three year old possum is a very rare occurrence and automobiles are one of the main causes of possum deaths.  Opossums are often pictured sleeping hanging by their hairless tail, which they do not do, and carrying their babies which are hanging on their mother's tail which is also a myth.  As opossums extend their range into the northern United States and southern Canada  their hairless tail and toes are always subject to frostbite.
"Playing possum" is a reflex reaction that the opossum displays as a reaction to a threat.  It is an involuntary response also known as "tonic immobility.  Opossums have 50 teeth, more than any other land mammal, and will eat a wide variety of food including bird eggs and dead animals.
The hind feet of the opossum have 4 clawed toes and 1 nail-less opposable thumb which aids its ability to hold onto branches.