Humble Opossum with Surprising Facts

You may have heard dialogues in movies like ‘playing possum’, meaning pretending to lie low or be asleep. It is, in reality, a trick opossums use in real life to protect themselves from predators.

Aren’t they smart? People often dismissed them as a hissing nuisance, but they were creatures rich with surprising abilities. Beneath that unassuming exterior lies a survival with excellent adaptability skills.

Opossum has earned the title of North America’s only marsupial because of its immunity to certain toxins to their dramatic act of ‘playing possum’.

Resistance to venom

  • Unlike most mammals, opossums possess a unique mutation in their nicotinic acetylcholine receptors.
  • These mutations make them immune to neurotoxins’ paralyzing effects, so they survive against venomous predators.
  • Their resilience extends beyond snakes. They can handle the sting of bees and scorpions.
  • Their body temperature is low [around 90 to 94 degrees Fahrenheit], so they cannot contract rabies.
  • They even prey on venomous creatures with minimal risk because of their toxin-resistance superpower.

Playing possum act

They are nocturnal animals, and they turn into a con artist at any time. They mimic death as a last-ditch effort to convince predators they are no longer viable targets.

  • When threatened, they enter in an immobile state, complete with a stiff body and foaming at the mouth.
  • Their body emits a foul odour, which enhances the illusion further.
  • This dramatic act fools predators into believing they have encountered a decayed or diseased animal, so they move away without attacking.

Skilled climbers

Sometimes their appearance seems clumsy, but their prehensile tails, hairless and almost rat-like, act as an extra limb.

They grip branches with their tails and navigate through trees with surprising agility. This skill is resourceful in helping them forage for food in the forest canopy.

Natures clean-up crew

Opossums have 50 teeth, which allows them to consume a wide variety of food.

  • Fruits
  • Insects
  • Carrion
  • Small vertebrates

This adaptability level has made them strive successfully across various habitats ranging from dense forests to urban backyards.

Remarkable fertility & child-rearing

  • A female opossum can give birth to a small size of 25 joeys at a time.
  • These tiny newborns are blind and hairless.
  • They must instinctively crawl into their mother’s pouch and attach themselves to one of her 13 nipples.
  • Competition is fierce, and the luckiest or strongest survive. This harsh reality ensures that only a handful of joeys reach maturity.
  • The incredible feat of the underdeveloped creatures embarking from the birth canal to their mother’s pouch is a marvel. Guided by instinct and a strong sense of smell, they climb onto their mother’s fur and follow the scent trail she leaves to reach the pouch.
  • Once they are safely nestled in the pouch, the joeys stay attached to her nipples for around two months.
  • They grow fur and develop sight.
  • As they get strong and mature, they venture out of the pouch for some time.
  • If the mother feels threatened, she transports her entire litter by holding each in her mouth by tail. This is a surprisingly graceful move for such an ungainly creature.

The opossum is a creature full of surprises. Next time you see them, appreciate this underestimated animal for its unique adaptation skills to survive in a challenging world.

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