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Meet Our friend, the opossum."

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

Opossums are a group of marsupials belonging to the family Didelphidae, found in North and South America. These animals are known for their pointed snout, long and slender body, and a prehensile tail that allows them to easily climb trees and other tall structures. They are also characterized by having a marsupial pouch, similar to kangaroos, where the young develop after birth.

Opossums are nocturnal and solitary animals that feed on a variety of foods, ranging from insects to small mammals, birds, and reptiles, as well as fruits, nuts, and seeds. They are known for their ability to "play dead" when they feel threatened and can also emit an unpleasant odor as a defense mechanism.

Important things that will surprise you about opossums:

  1. They have been living on our planet for about 60 million years, and their morphology has always remained the same.

  2. They are the only marsupials we have in America.

  3. They are harmless. They are not rodents, therefore, they are not mice.

  4. They are marsupials characterized by a short development in the womb, and they complete a significant part of their growth by clinging to the mammary glands inside the marsupial pouch or marsupium.

  5. Large litter size: Opossums have the largest litter size of all mammals.

  6. They are nocturnal animals and can sleep up to 19 hours.

  7. They sleep in burrows in a fetal position. They have poor eyesight, are very slow, and are highly nervous animals.

  8. They get easily frightened.

  9. They are resistant to snake bites because within their immune system, they possess a protein called peptide that is used to neutralize this type of venom.

  10. When they feel attacked, they pretend to be dead and in some cases, they emit a strong odor as a defense mechanism.

  11. Their mouth can open up to 80 degrees, and they have approximately 50 teeth.

  12. They have strong claws that enable them to climb on different surfaces.

  13. They play an important role in ecosystem balance.

  • They are omnivorous and have a varied diet. They feed on both plants and dead animals, and their diet can include insects, small mammals, birds, reptiles, fruits, nuts, and seeds. They are known for their ability to consume a wide variety of foods, making them an important species for ecosystem balance.

  • Due to their diet, their role in cleaning ecosystems from dead animals, their ability to disperse seeds, and their assistance in regulating populations of small animals and reducing insect-borne diseases, our marsupial becomes a great hero of our planet.

  • They are incredibly adaptable creatures and can live in a wide variety of habitats, from forests to urban areas. Despite their clumsy appearance, they are agile animals and excellent climbers.

  • In forests, they often inhabit trees and use their prehensile tail to climb and swing among the branches. They can also build leaf and branch nests in the treetops to sleep and rest.

  • In urban areas, they have adapted to living in attics, basements, gardens, and parks. They are known for their ability to live close to humans without causing many issues, and they have even become popular pets.

  • They can also inhabit semi-arid and desert regions, where they find shelters in caves, rocks, and bushes. In these regions, they often feed on insects and small mammals found on the ground.

Opossums have a remarkable resilience and can survive falls of up to 15 meters without suffering serious injuries. They are also intelligent and curious animals, capable of learning and quickly adapting to their environment.

Baby opossums.

The gestation period of opossums is very short, lasting 12 to 13 days. Because of this, they are born underdeveloped. They are born as small as a bee, hairless, with closed eyes, and undeveloped ears. The litter size usually ranges from 4 to 16 opossums, but not all babies survive. Upon birth, they crawl towards their mother's pouch, called the marsupium, located on the ventral wall of the adult female. Inside the pouch, the mammary glands are present, typically up to a maximum of 12.

Each baby opossum attaches itself to one of them to initiate lactation and complete their development. When there are more offspring than available teats, those who fail to attach will starve. Only the ones that successfully attach will survive.

Inside the marsupium, they spend around 50 more days, during which they grow rapidly.

When they reach the size of a mouse, they crawl onto their mother's back, where they remain until they are capable of taking care of themselves. During these 50 days of development within the mother's ventral pouch, their eyes, ears, and fur start to appear. By the time they emerge onto their mother's back, they are fully developed.

The threats to opossums.

The major threats to these animals, as well as other wildlife, are the destruction of their natural habitat and roadkill incidents.

All animals are changing their lifestyle habits because their natural habitat is rapidly being lost. That's why if you encounter a wild animal in your area, please do not hit or kill it. There are animal sanctuaries that provide protection for them.

Importance of opossums in the environment.

  • Adaptability: Opossums are known for their incredible adaptability. They can survive in a wide variety of habitats, from forests and jungles to urban areas.

  • Benefits to the ecosystem: Opossums play a vital role in the ecosystem, feeding on insects, rodents and other small animals, helping to control the populations of certain species. They also help to disperse seeds, which favors the regeneration of vegetation in different areas.

  • Early Maturity: Opossums are fast developing and reach sexual maturity in a few months. This shows the ability of these species to reproduce and maintain their populations in a short period of time,

  • Pest Control: Opossums are omnivorous, feeding on a wide variety of foods, including insects, rodents, snails, slugs, and fruits. Their diverse diet allows them to control insect and rodent populations, thus helping to maintain ecosystem balance and control potential agricultural and urban pests.

  • Seed dispersal: Opossums also eat fruits and berries as part of their diet. In doing so, they ingest seeds which are then dispersed through their droppings. This seed dispersal activity is essential for the regeneration and diversification of vegetation in different areas of the forest and other ecosystems.

  • Natural recyclers: Opossums are considered natural recyclers. They feed on the remains of dead animals, carrion and other decaying materials. This cleaning function helps keep the environment free of debris and contributes to the cycling of nutrients in the ecosystem.highlights the need to protect their habitats to ensure proper ecological balance.

  • Prey for Predators: Opossums are an important food source for various predators, including coyotes, foxes, eagles, and snakes. Their presence in the food chain helps to maintain the diversity of species in the ecosystem and to ensure the survival of other animals.

  • Indicators of ecosystem health: The presence and behavior of opossums can provide valuable information about the overall health of an ecosystem. As opportunistic and adaptable species, their presence may indicate a relatively healthy and balanced ecosystem.

  • Contribution to biodiversity: The existence of opossums, like all species, is vital to maintaining biodiversity on the planet. Each creature has a unique role to play in the ecosystem, and their disappearance could have negative effects on the web of ecological relationships.

In general, opossums are key animals in the environment, as they contribute to the ecological balance, control populations of other species, and participate in seed dispersal. Their presence and role in nature are important reminders of how every living thing, even those that are often underestimated, plays a critical role in conserving and preserving the environment.

What can you do if you find a dead opossum?

If you come across a dead opossum, there are a few steps you can take:

  1. Simply put on a pair of gloves and look for a pouch on the lower abdomen of the animal. If you don't have gloves on hand or are simply too squeamish to handle a dead opossum, call a wildlife rehabilitator, and they will likely be able to send a volunteer to assist.

Opossums are not dangerous animals, on the contrary, they are docile and very nervous.

If you find one, don't attack it! Protect it!

Call Keeper of the Wild


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