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Opossum afoot

Warming weather and a chance to snack on spilled birdseed brought this small opossum to my back yard last weekend. Its furless toes were reddened with cold. The animal sometimes suffers the loss of parts of its ears and hairless tail due to freezing temperatures.
TRR photos by Sandy Long

February 26, 2014

As winter’s grip begins to loosen, wildlife start to emerge and our encounters with them increase. Such was the case for a small opossum that appeared at my door one recent evening as it scrounged for sustenance.

Well adapted in terms of diet, opossums are omnivores and enjoy a variety of foods such as fruits, seeds, meat, eggs, insects and carrion. Although they often den in hollow trees, logs or brush piles, opossums are also well adapted to human environments and will sometimes seek shelter in culverts and beneath outbuildings.

The cat-sized mammals are marsupials, whose young are born premature and must complete development in a fur-lined pouch on the belly of the female. They are so tiny at birth that an entire litter can fit in a teaspoon. Following birth, the blind newborns crawl up their mother’s belly and enter her marsupial pouch where they will continue to develop for about two months. When they emerge, they may wrap their own tails around their mother’s tail to remain in her company.

Opossums sport scaly tails similar to those on rats, have long pointy faces, thin fur and five toes on each foot. When threatened, this unique animal may “play opossum,” falling down and lying still as if dead. Alternatively, it may choose to threaten a predator by growling and even biting. Keep watch along regional roads where the temptation of carrion puts the opossum at heightened risk.