Opossums are some of the most popular animals we have available for use in programs or at birthday parties. As with other animals you have read about such as Silkie Chicken and Ball Python #1, we also have opossums that live in our Education Holding Room (EHR) behind the scenes. We usually have 2 or 3 at one time, but right now we only have 1 living off-exhibit, whose name is Beaker (we also have an opossum living on exhibit in Carolina Wildlife).
Beaker came to us from the Wildlife Center of Virginia. He was brought to their center by a licensed rehabilitator who found him in the wild with injuries to his skull which likely came from a car accident. After having surgery to repair the fractures in his skull and jaw, he recovered quite well and ended up being a healthy active opossum. The fact that Beaker recovered from such injuries makes him very special to us, but it is made even more true by the fact that the injuries left him without one eye and blind in the other! Despite his loss of eyesight, he walks around on the support hall every day sniffing out food that we scatter and hide for him. It’s quite amazing to see him use his sense of smell so well and also somehow manage to rarely ever bump into things.
And when it comes to eating, Beaker has a big appetite! Opossums are known to eat just about anything they come across, so Beaker isn’t very picky. But his favorite foods are mice, sardines, mozzerella string cheese, eggs, yogurt and peanuts. He gets a lot of other fruits and vegetables in his diet, but apparently he likes the proteins the best! Because he was handled a lot during rehabilitation as a juvenile, he has a great temperament which makes him a good candidate for educational programs.
All opossums in North America are called Virginia opossums because that is the state in which early settlers first found them. There are several species of opposums, but the Virginia opossum is the only species native to North America. The Virginia opossum is also the only marsupial species living in North America, meaning they have pouches that are used to raise their young. Often times opossums are mistaken as being in the rat family, but they are actually related to other pouched mammals such as kangaroos and koalas. Because of their unique pouches, which act as a safe place for babies to develop, a mother opossum gives birth to very tiny pink babies after only 11-13 days of gestation! The babies then finish their development in the mother’s pouch.
Despite popular belief, opossums do not sleep by hanging from their tails. Their tails are prehensile and used for grabbing branches to help stay balanced while in trees, or for carrying nesting material. They also have opposable thumbs on their back feet to help them grab branches while climbing. Another interesting fact about opossums is that they have 50 teeth, more than any other North American land mammal!
You can learn much more about opossums by visiting http://www.opossumsocietyus.org/opossum. Meanwhile, check out this video of Beaker chomping down on a big pumpkin! You might be able to tell his left eye is the one missing. Also, watch how wide he can open his mouth, and check out his teeth while you’re at it!