Our American Opossum!

Above you can see part of the large numbers and size of possum teeth, and the resemblance to reptile scales in the tail. These were photographed from a poor thing hit by a car. Sitting and eating lunch off a street in Illinois, I noticed what look like something in a tree. Doing what I always do, just in case, I took a picture with my long lens and discovered this large almost pure white possum during the day. The more normal looking one on the ground is gobbling up things in our backyard compost heap.

We have here in America a lot of common but very interesting animals. One of which I love and take time to feed in my backyard is the Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana). We happen to have just one of many possum species. The rest of which have decided to stay in Central and South America, thus giving us our only marsupial. This is our most primitive animal, too, having survived from the time of dinosaurs over 70 million years ago. Our American Opossum has several other interesting features:

Teeth – more than any of our native predators, about 50 of them!

Babies born quickly. Over a dozen young that gestate in less than two weeks, the shortest time for any North American mammal. They then spend time clinging to Mom’s back. Marsupial birth is amazing in any animal that does it.

About one year later, when finally mature, they love to climb trees. And like monkeys they have prehensile tails which help that activity.

Self defense – If those abundant teeth don’t frighten you, they play dead. And if you have ever experienced this you’ll know how realistic it is. Even fooled me once because I thought my dog had killed it. On another occasions I was threatened by those teeth, and that was frightening. By the way, we have one other animal in our country that does the same thing – a Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos). I’ve experienced that too.

Diet – Possums will eat just about anything from insects to chickens, and numerous veggies, especially fruit. We keep a compose heap in our backyard which attracts, and saves, a lot of possums.

            Since possums are so numerous and widespread around North America why do we usually just see them lying dead in the road? Because our Virginia Opossum is usually only active at night, and apparently does not recognize cars as predators that will stop. Too bad. These accidents and natural predators kill a lot of them. On that note, however, there is a surprising number of wild reserves and other organizations that work to protect them. No surprise about a wildlife reserve or zoo doing this, but here is an organization that did surprise me:

Opossum Society of the United States

Go there and you will find a lot more information about possums and their relationship with humans.

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