Opossums

General Information

The opossum are small to medium opportunistic marsupial omnivores in the order of Didelphimorphia (named so due to the characteristic divided uterus and sexual organs) found in South America, Central America and North America. They belong to the mammalian group of animals having characteristic nursing through suckling their young ones. The opossums originated from South America from where they migrated to North America during the Great American Interchange.

Characteristics of Opossums

The opossums are nocturnal animals which also have the ability to live and perform their activities during the day. They are small to medium in size with fur covered bodies and a characteristic long snouts. Their dental formula features long canines, small incisors and tricuspid molar teeth adapted for their wide range of food material. Their feet feature a flat sole and five unique digits that are inclusive of a hind digit adapted to strengthen their grip when climbing on to trees. Female opossums feature a pouch by which they carry their young and also have their teats within these pouches from where they nurse their young.

Reproduction And Caring For Young

Opossums have short reproductive cycles with gestation age ranging from about 12-14 days when they give birth to premature young ones. The female feature a bifurcated vagina and a divided uterus which has the ability to carry multiple pups in one pregnancy, estimated to be about 10-15 pups. The growing young inside the uterus are attached to the uterus by means of short lived placentas which are not fully functional for nourishment. After birth the young find their way crawling to the pouch where they attach to the teats for suckling. The pouch provides a place to grow in as well security from predators. It is warm and closes tight enough to keep the pups from getting wet when the mother is swimming. The male has a characteristic bifurcated penis and an epididymis that stores paired spermatozoa.

Habitat

Opossums create their dens in many sites where they find shelter from predators and harsh weather conditions provided these sites are dry and do not harbor many treats. They make their shelter in any abandoned burrows, in hollow logs, under houses as well as on trees. Opossums do not usually make their own shelter and seem to prefer places where they can live in solitary. This may also be for the fact that the opossums do not live in one place for a long time.

Life Cycle

The opossums do not live for long and have high mortality rates. They barely live two years owing to being hunted and killed by many predators including dogs and coyotes and too for the reason that many are hunted as food for humans. Many of them also get run over by vehicles on the roads during winter and fall which reduces their life cycle. Those in the wild, however, live longer as compared to those in the open country; they may live for two full years.

Feeding Habits

Opossums consume a wide range of food materials. Their diet contain anything from fruits, seeds, nuts, insects, snakes, frogs, birds, slugs and other small animals such as mice. They also feed on dead animals including their own dead members who may have been run over by vehicles in the night. You may also find them eating garbage from garbage bins, poultry food and also food given to them by humans. Their ability to feed on most food materials has been the property which has enabled them to exist for many years for they have been described to have lived with the dinosaurs.

Behavior

Opossums are gentle and calm animals when not threatened. They protect themselves from predators and other threats through two mechanisms which include fierce growling or hissing and also playing dead. When a baby opossum is threatened it produces a warning hiss against the treat while when its mother is threatened growls fiercely. When the young cannot find their mother they usually produce sneezing sounds to alert the mother of their whereabouts. When playing dead’ also referred to as playing opossum the threatened opossum lays stiff on the ground and open up their mouth with their lips drawn back while saliva foams from their mouth. The eyes may be closed or half open. They will also produce the smell of a dead animal a characteristic of the fluid produced from their anal glands. During the mating period the male will make a clicking sound while they go looking for a female to mate who when ready to accept the call replies with the same clicking sound.

References:

https://wdfw.wa.gov/living/opossums.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opossum