11 Facts About Opossums That You Probably Don’t Know

Mammalian Animal Facts
/ / 11 Facts About Opossums That You Probably Don’t Know

Opossums are amazing animals and really very little known, or rather, it is a misunderstood animal, many people associate it with rats.

In other communities it is treated as a pest, but the possum is an animal with amazing properties and characteristics, important to know to be aware of its importance in the ecosystem.

13 is a number that actually symbolizes bad luck for baby possums, because only 13 offspring can survive.

Female possums are distinguished by an under-belly sac called a marsupium (like kangaroos). At the time of birth, the young are moved from their mother’s womb to the marsupium, from where they attach themselves to the nipple to feed on milk and complete their development. 

Within this marsupium, the females have 13 nipples, so although they are capable of giving birth to up to 21 young, they can only survive a maximum of 13.

2. Opossums are also called "the little fire-eater" in another culture

There is a beautiful Mixtec legend that tells how the opossum steals fire to give it to men: Fire belonged to the gods, and they guarded it jealously. Men needed it for heating, lighting and cooking, so they sent several animals to try to obtain it. However, they all failed. 

Finally, the opossum managed to get hold of the valuable element thanks to its long tail, which is put into the stove, and its pouch, which served to hide the embers.

3. The opossums are not very agile

Opossums have arboreal habits, so they can be very slow and somewhat clumsy to walk and move, in many places statistically the main cause of death of opossums is due to accidental collisions with motor vehicles.

They can also be easy prey for dogs and cats in urban areas due to their limited agility.

4. Opossums have prehensile tails

One of the most striking and distinctive characteristics of possums is their long tail, in fact it is longer than the length of their body.

The opossum has a prehensile tail, because this is a characteristic of marsupials, the species from which it is derived, and its tail is thick enough to support the weight of a baby opossum.

5. They are rarely seen during the day

Opossums are nocturnal animals, during the day they prefer to take refuge in rocky cavities, they have little social behavior.

This does not mean that they do not go out during the day, opossums can go out during the day for various reasons, mainly in search of food, not all nights are productive.

They may also go out for a walk with their young, or in search of a new nest since opossums do not build their nests, but look for a hidden and comfortable place to choose as their home.

6. They clean themselves frequently

Because of their scruffy appearance, and their distant resemblance to a giant rat, people tend to label possums as dirty animals.

There is also the fact that they like to scavenge for food and that the opossums can also smell terrible, odor is simply one of several defense mechanisms they use to ward off predators.

But the truth is, opossums are quite clean animals, they spend much of their time grooming their fur and face, washing it with the help of their paws.

7. They are immune to snake venom

Despite their fragile appearance, opossums are immune to most snake venom, in fact, anti-snakebite methods are being developed based on protein sera extracted from opossums.

8. They have sharp teeth but are harmless

Their mouth is capable of opening more than 80 degrees. They also have about 50 sharp teeth and claws capable of climbing various surfaces. In spite of these physical characteristics, they are harmless and fearful animals, whose reaction to a confrontation is always defensive.

9. The opossum is considered a living fossil

Possum fossils have been found in South America up to 3 million years old, with practically no physical variation. In fact, the class of marsupials to which the possum belongs has been on earth for millions of years, when the continents known today were not even formed.

10. "Playing dead" may not be an act

Contrary to what is commonly read and believed on the web, that the possum is capable of faking its death to escape possible predators, in reality this is not entirely accurate.

According to research I have done, the opossum does not fake its death voluntarily, it actually enters an uncontrollable state caused by stress in the presence of a potential predator, this state is called thanatosis.

Thanatosis is usually triggered in situations that are perceived to be extremely dangerous, usually an imminent threat of predation, and provoked by strong and sustained tactile stimuli consistent with being captured by a predator.

Studies have shown that during thanatosis the animal not only adopts a posture but also undergoes severe physiological changes, such as decreased heart rate, excessive dilation of the pupils, and so on.

11. There are more than 80 species of opossums

Family members of the Didelphidae have a cone-shaped head of large size in relation to their body, a pointed snout with a naked nose, large, wide-spaced eyes and rounded ears. It is membranous in appearance and devoid of hair.

Their extremities are very short and each leg has five toes, where the first toe of the hind limbs is opposable, a characteristic that allows them to hold objects and improve their climbing ability.

In fact, in my native country, a Caribbean island, there is an endangered mammal called Solenodon, which is very similar to the possum, almost in every aspect, except that the Solenodon is a venomous mammal.

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