North America Marsupial
Wednesday evening while returning from the Bill Thompson III talk, we came across an Opossum (Didelphis marsupialis) near where I had my truck parked in Allegany State Park, NY. Those red reflected eyes from the vehicle are unmistakable. After being skunked (not getting a good photo) of the skunk last month, I wanted to approach this little critter from a different angle. It started to run away as I approached and I did my very best to get between the goldenrod field and the Opossum. Everything happened so quickly but what I do remember is that it froze in place as if I couldn’t see it! No doubt that it played possum on me which is where it probably got its name. Opossum isn’t spelled how you expect it to be spelled, so I always call it the O’ possum.
Slowly – I moved closer and it allowed me to capture these pictures! You could tell that it was looking out the side of its eye, as if to wonder “what was the proper second for it to bolt away”! Moments later this gray mammal took advantage of me trying to get that close look and took off in a blink of an eye! I do remember looking at their funny feet and almost hairless tail. They can use this tail for assistance in climbing and on occasion hang upside down in a tree by their tail only.
As most know the Opossum is a members of the marsupial family (same family as the Kangaroo). They are unique mammal because the female carries their undeveloped young in an external abdominal pouch. I have seen an Opossum once around the feeder where the female was carrying around ~10 little ones. Those cute (yes I said cute) little ones quickly disappeared once I shined the flashlight on her (going into the pouch around the sides of her) and then she snarled at me. I quickly backed off realizing what I just witnessed.
You need to be very careful around the Opossum because they have very sharp teeth and will bite if they are threatened. What is unique is that they have more teeth than any other mammal in New York State (with 50 teeth total, 26 upper and 24 lower). They have a very large distribution across the east coast from the Great Lakes down to the tropics and South America. They typically live in hollow trees but on occasion are found under porches or even living in woodchuck holes.
The Opossum will leave little evidence that they in an area and are solely nocturnal. The males are more nomadic than the females and both just wonder around the woods/wetlands. They are omnivores and will eat nearly anything they can. Majority of their diet is smaller animals like insects, mice and even ground nesting birds (eggs, chicks).
I truly enjoyed getting this close encounter with this funny looking O’ possum last Wednesday. If you ever encounter this cat sized critter, please appreciate how unique it really is and get a good look of it. I promise it will be something that will remember for a long time.
Facts taken from: Jackson, Hartley H. T., 1961. Mammals of Wisconsin The University of Wisconsin Press. pp17 -25