Opossum

All posts tagged Opossum

By John Harrod, Manager, DuPont Environmental Education Center

Though we have not had much snow yet in Delaware, I have had the opportunity to observe other white wonders of nature in the marsh at the Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge. On a recent walk, I saw some wildlife that boast white on their bodies.

I was delighted at the unexpected sighting of a piebald White-tailed Deer among the grasses. Piebald animals lack pigment on portions of their bodies.

A piebald deer at the Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge

A piebald deer at the Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge. Photo by John Harrod

A Northern Harrier was seen skimming over the marsh hunting for small mammals. It was easily identified by the large white patch on its rump.

Northern Harrier by Bob Webster.

Northern Harrier. Photo by Bob Webster.

I also caught a glimpse of an Opossum wandering into the reeds. When the weather gets cold and food is scarcer, nocturnal animals can often be found looking for sustenance during the day. The word “opossum” is derived from Algonquian, meaning “white beast.” 

Opossum. Photo by Derek Stoner.

Opossum. Photo by Derek Stoner.

Visit us at the DuPont Environmental Education Center over the winter holiday break and see what wildlife you can find. Use DEEC’s balcony to overlook the marsh or join us on one of our free or low-cost walks into the marsh.

By Derek Stoner, Family Program Coordinator and Linda Chambers, Associate Director Development and Marketing

During the depths of February’s 3-foot snowpack, we had a most curious visitor stop by to visit during the late afternoon.  Linda looked out her window at the snowy landscape and saw this fetching face staring up at her.   Linda recounts her experience:

“As I glanced out my office window, I noticed a sight that took me by surprise. Sitting approximately a foot from the window was the little creature pictured above. With feline movements and features, I found myself captivated with her.

Fascinated by how she was eating sunflower seeds and then grooming herself,  I stood transfixed by the sight. Not sure if I should be alarmed, I quickly sought out Derek who assured me that in this harsh weather, it was perfectly fine to see a nocturnal creature out at this time of day.”

Virginia Opossums are North America’s only native marsupial, giving birth to undeveloped young the size of bumblebees.  The babies live in the mother’s pouch for two months, nursing on one of her 13 nipples.  Upon emerging from the pouch, the babies hitch a ride on the mother’s back as she travels about in search of food.

True omnivores, possums will consume just about any plant or animal matter.  Using their excellent sense of smell (thus the long snout), they search for insects, worms, fruits and seeds, small mammals, and carrion like road-kill.   The possum has 50 teeth, the most of any mammal, and uses them to great advantage when chewing on meat. 

The possum’s pink, prehensile tail helps them balance when climbing in trees but is not used to hang from, despite the popular folklore.  Because of their slow manner of moving, possum’s employ a unique survival technique when confronted by a predator: playing dead!  Curling up in ball, the crafty possum tries to avoid being eaten by “playing possum.” 

We wish our special visitor the best as she goes about caring for her babies and raising the next generation of native marsupials.

References:   Kaufman, K.  Mammals of North America.  2004. Houghton Mifflin.