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Opossum   The Virginia opossum is North America’s only native marsupial. A marsupial is an animal with a pouch, like a kangaroo. Newborn opossum are hairless and the size of a navy bean. These tiny infants must make their own way up mama’s tummy and into the pouch where they stay and nurse for up to two months. Several young are born at once and a female can nurse up to thirteen babies. After leaving the pouch, babies stay with their mother, riding on her back, for just two more months before they are off to start families of their own. Females often have three litters of babies each year.

Adult opossum are grayish, pointy faced critters, about the size of a house cat and have a long hairless tail. This weird looking appendage is prehensile like many monkey tails and the opossum uses it for balancing and holding on while venturing through the trees. They can hang by their tail for short periods but do not sleep while hanging, as myths would have us believe. They are simply too heavy for the tail to support all their weight for very long.

The opossum has been around for about 70 million years making it one of Earth’s oldest surviving mammals. The crafty and ancient opossum also has opposable thumbs, called hallux on their back feet. These are used for grasping branches when climbing trees in search of eggs or insects. Opossum are omnivorous and will eat just about anything, including garbage and carrion.

Perhaps the most special talent of the truly unique opossum is their ability to fake death as a defense. Coining the phrase “playing possum” this involuntary state is brought on by extreme stress. When hissing, grunting and running away have failed to ward off danger, a frightened opossum will roll over, become stiff, drool, and its breathing will become slow and shallow. This coma-like state can last up to four hours. Nature never ceases to amaze!