Check Out The Opossum By: Kevin Williams, Grundy County Conservation Director
January 25, 2013
There is a new mounted animal in the Grundy County Heritage Museum displays. It is a Virginia Opossum. Not just your run of the mill opossum mind you. Oh no, a pretty special example of a opossum. It is an albino opossum. I’ve written about albino animals in the past. I’ve written about opossums in the past, too. But I wanted you to know about this one now that it is here at the museum. For a opossum, it is a rather pretty animal. Snow white fur, white tail and ears. And pink eyes. A true albino. I have always been fascinated by the animal and over the years have been quite an advocate at times for them. Maybe because I like to root for the underdog. You see not many people like the looks or actions of the opossum. I would have to agree that they seem to have a face that only a mother can love. Maybe it is that strange smile, too. You see they have 50 teeth – that’s almost twice as many as you. And more than twice as many as some people I’ve encountered. Add to that a thick, hairless rat-like tail that isn’t very attractive either. And besides being rather deficient in the looks department, many people dislike their habit of eating just about anything they come across including free meals out of the cat or dog dish. The opossum gives birth to as many as 13 young and just 13 days after conception. The tiny honeybee-sized young crawl into the pouch (marsupium) where she carries and nurses them until they are about 2 to 3 months old. Each tiny baby latches on to a spigot that swells literally locking the young opossum to its source of nourishment for the next several weeks. After the young outgrow their mother’s carrying case, it is normal that they head for her back where they are carried for another 1 to 2 months whenever they are away from the den. I’ve seen mother opossums so weighed down with young that it looked like they could hardly walk. Opossums are interesting animals with kind of a bad rap. They are North America’s only marsupial (pouched mammal). In Australia, marsupials come in all shapes and sizes. But over here, the only example is the opossum. And they’ve been quite successful having populated much of the U.S. So where do you go if you want to know more about opossums? Did you know that there is a National Opossum Society? Their website gives lots of opossum facts. A quick google will get you to their website but here it is: www.opossum.org. Most folks already know about such things as their prehensile tail that aids in climbing among tree branches. And everyone has heard that when frightened and unable to flee may fall into an involuntary shock-like state we call “playing ‘possum”. And anyone who tries to feed their cat or dog outside the backdoor has probably fed a opossum or two in the process because they love to eat easy cat or dog food when they have the chance. But did you know that they are one of the shortest lived mammals for their size? Mortality of their young is quite high and if they do survive to adulthood, they typically live only 2 to 4 years. And here is something else that I learned from the website – in learning and discrimination tests they rank above dogs, and are more on the level of pigs!
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