Tucson Wildlife Center

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Possums or Opossums?

Recently Tucson Wildlife Center received a call from a concerned citizen who found mother opossum who had died, her six babies still clinging to her body. One of the babies had a minor tail injury, but all were otherwise healthy. They are thriving in our care. If you look closely at the adorable pictures, you can see that some of the babies have different colors of non-toxic paint inside their ears. This helps us determine one from another during feeding time, when giving medications and charting their weights.
Here are a few interesting facts about a fascinating animal we rarely see here in Arizona:

*Are they possums or opossums? The species found in North America is the opossum. Possums are found in Australia and New Guinea.
*The opossum is North America’s only marsupial. Like other marsupials, such as koalas, opossums have pouches where their young stay until fully developed.
*Opossums can give birth to up to 20 honeybee sized babies at a time. Usually about half survive. As soon as they are born, they crawl into their mother’s pouch, and spend the first two months of their life there.
*Opossums are omnivorous and primarily nocturnal. A large part of their diet consists of insects and other invertebrates.
*They have a prehensile tail, which can be used for grasping and wrapping around tree limbs and other objects. Opossums can use their tails to hang for short periods, but unlike the popular belief, they cannot hang long enough to sleep. They also use their tails to carry bundles of grass, and other small objects.
*Best known for “playing possum” when threatened – if teeth-baring, hissing and foaming at the mouth are not enough to scare off potential predators – opossums will then fall over, curl up in a ball, and play dead. This is actually an involuntary response to extreme stress, and can last up to four hours!

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