Awesome Mama OpossumBy Olivia Opossum, as told to Anne Cissel
Hi! I’m Olivia Opossum. For Mother’s Day, I’m celebrating my mom, Opal. Come hang with us!
First off, you should know something very important about opossums. Like a baby kangaroo, a baby opossum snuggles up inside a pouch on its mother’s belly for the first few months of its life. Opossums are the only animals in North America that do that! Mammals that start life that way are called marsupials (mar-SOO-peeuls). It’s super cozy in that pouch!
My mom and I are Virginia opossums. But don’t let the name fool you. We live in many parts of the United States, Mexico, and Central America. And we are moving farther northward in the U.S. all the time. Opossums might even be hanging out in your neighborhood! It’s tricky to see us, because we are awake mainly at night. So let me give you an up-close view of opossum life—starring my mom!
FROM POUCH TO PIGGY-BACK RIDE
Before giving birth, my mother set up a cozy den in a tree hollow. When my siblings and I arrived, each of us was only the size of a honey bee! We did have strong front legs, so we could climb up to Mom’s pouch. Once inside, the seven of us latched on to her nipples. Then, we grew and grew.
A few months later, it was time to leave the pouch. We still need protection, though. When Mom goes out looking for food, we either hunker down in the den or climb onto her back. Good thing we have such sharp claws and grabby paws!
My mother tries her best to keep us safe. If she sees a predator, she bares her many tiny-but-sharp teeth. (An opossum has 50 teeth—the most of any North American land mammal!) She also sometimes hisses and snaps her jaws. Her fur might stand on end to make her look bigger. And she has one more trick to escape danger. Keep reading to find out what it is!
If the hissing and other threats don’t work, my mom can perform a kind of magic trick. First, she lies down. Then her heartbeat and breathing slow way down. She’s pretending to be . . . dead! Many predators don’t like to eat animals that are already dead, so they’ll just pass her by. Once, I saw my mom “playing ’possum” for a long time. I was so happy when she popped up and ran back to our den!
During daylight hours, we sleep in our dens—in a brush pile, a hollow tree, or some other hideaway. Males and females sometimes share a den, but most of the time, adults live alone. At night, it’s time to find food. We are good climbers. Our tails are prehensile (pree-HEN-suhl), which means they can grasp things. A tail works as an extra arm for climbing or carrying leaves and things back to our dens.
When it is time to eat, we are the vacuum cleaners of the natural world. We chow down on almost anything: bugs; worms; plants; and small animals such as mice, frogs, and fishes—sometimes even dead animals. We use our sharp senses of hearing and smell to lead us to our meals. We’re ready to fight skunks or cats for our food. But if a raccoon shows up, we usually hit the road. Now that I’m about four months old, I’m ready to start looking for my meals by myself!