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Missouri's Marsupial Moms

May 07, 2018

These mammal mothers will be unloading their broods this month. Their young will be graduating to life on their own in the wild. They have been hitching a ride on their mother's backs and learning how to forage for food and avoid predators.

Opossums are the only marsupials in North America. Females raise their young in pouches like kangaroos. After a brief pregnancy of a dozen days, the babes are born hairless and blind and weigh less than a dime. There may be anywhere from six to 20 of them, finding their way from under mom's tail to her fur-lined pouch. The pouch stretches as the babes grow and mom can open and close it to keep them cool or warm and dry.

Opossum babes will stay in the pouch for about two months until they are the size of mice and can open their eyes. Then they will crawl onto their mother's back until they are too heavy to ride at about 3 1/2 months of age. Mother opossums may have a second litter which will be weaned in September. Opossum young breed the first year after birth. This accelerated mating and birthing process is no doubt helpful as opossums live extremely short lives.

Opossum mothers use their strong tails like a second hand to scoop up leaves and carry them back to line their dens. Watch an opossum mom in action and see her babes in the pouch and clinging to her back in the video below.

Opossums may not be valued for their looks, but they do serve well as nature's clean up crew.  Opossums eat more than 95% of the ticks that try to climb aboard.  One study showed a single opossum can clean up 5,000 ticks in a season.  They will also scavenge on cockroaches, rats, mice, copperheads, and rattlesnakes.  They'll also clean up rotting vegetables and fruits as well as dead animals.  That's a helpful patrol for suburban and urban backyards.

Playing Possum:

  • Opossums can play dead by collapsing and slowing their breathing from four minutes to four hours to fend off a predator.
  • They prefer wooded areas near streams and farms and are also common in urban and suburban areas.
  • Opossums are scavengers that eat often. Their diet includes insects, fruits, carrion of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and crayfish.
  • They will also scavenge food from unsecured garbage cans.
  • Opossums have a prehensile tail that can curl around things and help them balance on tree branches.

Discover more about opossums in our MDC Field Guide.

opossums.jpg

Opossum mother and babes
Opossum mother and babes

Born to be Wild: Opossums

Born to be Wild:  Opossums
Born to be Wild: Opossums

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