What Mammal Will Feign Death?
Live Fast, Die Young
Opossums don’t live long. Three year-olds are rare, and 4 year-olds are almost unheard of. They find a mate at seven months and after a 12-day pregnancy - the shortest of any North American mammal - a mother opossum gives birth to six to 20 babies.
Newborn opossums are about the size of a kidney bean. The newborns are naked, blind, deaf, and have just two working legs. The babies must make their way from under the mother’s tail to the pouch where each baby clamps down on a nipple - mamma opossums usually have 13 arranged in a “U” - and don’t let go for two months.
The babies grow to chipmunk size while they nurse on mom’s milk. The pouch is fur-lined. Having a pouch allows mama opossum to stay mobile so they don’t have to return to a den or nest. When the babies are about two months old, they crawl out of the pouch and ride atop their mother’s back, clinging to fur as she forges for food. When they are 100 days old, they become to heavy to hitch a ride, and they’re able to fend for themselves.
When threatened, an opossum will bare it’s teeth. But if a predator persists, the opossum will “play possum,” a habit called Thanatosis, or death feigning.
Come see the opossum exhibit at the Pierson Wildlife Museum Learning Center. Call ahead to make an appointment 402.929.0330. We are open by appointment only. We follow Covid-19 guidelines, so bring a mask and keep groups under ten visitors please. We are located at 205 East 5th Street, Neligh NE 68756