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Wildlife Wednesday: Virginia Opossum

This week’s Wildlife Wednesday is dedicated to the Virginia Opossum! These backyard critters are North America’s only marsupial. But what does it mean to be a marsupial? This means that the female opossums have a pouch on their stomach (much like a kangaroo) where their young, or joeys, hang out after they are born. These animals have been given the nickname “nature’s minivan” because their numerous young can be seen hitching a ride on mom’s back. They have 50 teeth- that’s more than any other mammal on the continent! This helps them eat a wide variety of foods such as: insects, eggs, fruit, snakes, and especially ticks. One opossum can eat up to 5000 ticks per season. Because they are marsupials, opossums have a lower body temperature, heart rate, and metabolism. This makes them immune to certain infections like Lyme disease, rabies, and even rattlesnake venom! Winter can be a dangerous time for an opossum since they do not burrow underground to hibernate. Instead, they enter an inactive state called torpor which helps them conserve energy. They can come out to scavenge for food, although not for long- their hairless ears, toes, and tails are prone to frostbite. A common myth about opossums is that they can hang upside down by their tails. Although they have a prehensile tail that they can use to carry materials back to their dens, they cannot use it to hang upside down like a monkey. Opossums are also known to “play dead.” When threatened, they faint in hopes that they will trick their assailant into thinking they are dead. Next time you see a Virginia Opossum in your yard or at a Metropark, enjoy watching it from a distance!

 

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