Often called a "Possum", originally found in southeastern U.S.,
the Opossum has migrated north and westwards to Wisconsin, Colorado
and Texas, and has even appeared in some Pacific Coast areas.
The only marsupial in North America, the Opossum suckles its young in a
maternal pouch (as the Kangaroo and Koala Bear do). Two weeks after
the parents mate, about 25 honeybee-sized babies are born. These young
must drag themselves across two to three inches of abdominal fur to
reach the warmth, nourishment and security of their mother's pouch. It's a matter of first come, first served. Those who reach one of the thirteen or so life-giving nipples clamp on tenaciously. About two months later, the eight or nine surviving young start to emerge. Mouse-sized, they will
travel on their mother's back . . beady-eyed, gray-fluffed babies hanging
on to her fur and rat-like tail for dear life.
At about four months of age, having learned the ways of survival from
their mother, the young leave to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Using their scaly, prehensile tails for hanging and balancing, sharp claws, long fingers and almost thumblike rear toes for holding, these solitary,
nocturnal tree-climbers will find enough insects, carrion, grains, seeds
and fruit to survive.
Preyed upon by many larger animals, the Opossum has meager means of
defense. If caught in the open, he has no alternative but to
"play possum", rolling on his side and appearing dead. This very convincing death act (the animal's heart beat and respiration actually diminish) almost always serves the purpose of diverting danger. Once safe, this creature suddenly revives and gets on with his business.
Dixie and I have been fortunate to receive guidance from, what we consider, the most experienced and knowledgeable people in the field of Opossum rehabilitation. Dixie is the lead on these critters because, quite honestly, I've always been a little put off by their appearance. Now that I've been around them for a while, I must say, I still think they're a little less than pretty, but they do grow on you. The following pictures are from some of our experiences over the last several seasons and they include an interesting twist... I hope you enjoy them.....
This class started out with six babies, five in one litter and a single female. The mother of the five was hit by a car and the babies removed from her pouch a few hours after her death. Because we failed to treat the babies with antibiotics, they became very ill just prior to what should have been their release back into the wild. We lost the two males in the litter but the remaining three females and the single female survived. Because of their illness we were unable to release them for several more weeks.
Exotic Pet, or just a long way From Home? Either way, He's all alone and Unreleasable.
He was purchased from a Pet Shop and abandoned by someone who didn't want to care for him.
A Crying Shame. Results of Improper Diet.
Facial deformity due to malformed jaws. She can't even close her mouth.
Her legs can't support her weight, so she waddles on her knees.
We receive many request for information on diet for opossums from people that have found orphans. Though we provide information, some won't follow our guidance or can't afford to. We praise those who want to help these animals however, when important dietary needs are ignored, deformed and crippled opossums are often the results. The photos above show the results of a mayonnaise and bread diet. Why such a diet? Because the opossum seemed to like it... The lady in this case truly loves Pinky. Unfortunately, no amount of love can undo the damage that has been done here. Please, if you want to help, do it right. If you can't, give the animal to someone that can.
Final Heart Break - We received a sad note that Pinky died a short three weeks after these pictures were taken.