Opossums have an almost hairless prehensile tails that they use to hold on to branches as they climb. Something nipped the end off of this one's tail! Their feet are equipped with long toenails for climbing and with back feet that have thumbs for grasping branches. The long white guard hairs are also evident in this picture. This top layer of coarse fur helps keep the elements and dirt away from the softer, warm fur underneath. It works in the same way an overcoat does for us.They have a large nose for discovering food. You can see a small drip coming from the mouth. The opossum is salivating, another defense mechanism. This is to fool me into thinking it is sick and therefore not worth the risk of eating. The opossum has long whiskers, as well, to help find its way around tight spaces in the dark. Each whisker has sensory nerves at the base so when the whisker brushes against something, the opossum knows how much room it has to squeeze through.
Photo from Opossum Society of the United States
The most amazing thing about opossums is the reproductive cycle. A baby opossum is born 11-13 days after conception! How is this possible? Opossums are the only North American marsupial, distantly related to kangaroos. Their young are born very small, then they finish developing within their mother's pouch. Above is a picture of a newborn. They weigh about .13 grams at birth. (A penny weighs about 2.5-3 grams depending on the year it was produced.) They must crawl up their mothers belly and go into her pouch to locate a teat. The mother will assist with this by licking a path for the young to follow. There they will remain attached to the teat for about 2 months. Around two and a half months, the baby opossums' eyes will open and they will soon outgrow the pouch. They will then ride around on the mothers back, learning where to find food and defense stategies. At five months they are on their own.
My friend, Dawn, is a rehabber and I had the pleasure of raising four baby opossums one year. Boy, they are ravenous little guys! They lived in my back bathroom for a few months. Occasionally they would make a break for it and take off for the living room to camp under the furniture. My cats would always tell me where they were. Cautiously approaching them and yowling about the whole experience. Pretty funny! I wish I had it on video.
Do you like animals? Check out more at the Camera Critters site.