| Mar 27, 2008

Outdoors - March 27, 2008

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Outdoors in the LandO'Lakes - March 27, 2008 The Opossum Outdoors in the Land O'Lakes byLorraine Julien

I am writing about this mysterious and fascinating little creature because one was spotted and photographed by Mr. and Mrs. Griffin in the Lavant Road area recently. This was a real surprise as Opossums usually reside in the north eastern United States and don’t usually venture too much farther north but, perhaps with milder winters, they have managed to move northward into southern Ontario. My sister, who lives north of Oshawa in Port Perry, observed opossums on numerous occasions last year.

Some facts: First of all, the Opossum (Didelphimorphia) belongs to the Marsupial order which means that it is a mammal with a pouch to carry its young. In fact, it is North America’s only Marsupial. Another well-known Marsupial is the Kangaroo which, of course, is native to Australia. The name Opossum is derived from the Indian word “Apasum” which means white animal. Although the proper name is Opossum, they are often referred to as Possums.

There are many different types of Opossums in the world but in eastern North America, all are derived from the Virginia Opossum.

When danger threatens, and there’s no escape, this animal may “play possum” and go into a catatonic (or shock-like) state that can last a few minutes or several hours. This, however, does not always fool the predator.

The Opossum has two wombs, one inside and one outside (in the pouch). They can bear litters of up to 14 little ones, each the size of a honey bee. Immediately after birth, the tiny young crawl into their mother’s pouch where they nurse for several months and grow bigger.

After emerging from the pouch, they ride about on their mother’s back for a few weeks. After weaning, diet may consist of insects, small animals, eggs, grains, fruits, carrion and fungi. They are also partial to garbage and road kill.

Rabies is almost unknown in opossums, thanks to their lower blood temperature.

This animal is mainly nocturnal and, during the day, is quite at home in the tops of trees. Contrary to common belief, it does not hang by its tail. The tail is mainly used to help stabilize its position when climbing or the tail may be used to carry material for the nest or den.

Their general habitat is farmland and forests, preferably near water. Their flexible diet and reproductive strategy enable them to survive adverse conditions. However, during severe winters, like we’ve just experienced, Opossums may lose their ears and tail to frost. In fact, Canadian populations may be periodically exterminated by harsh winters and then replaced from the south during milder years.

It’s one of the shortest lived mammals for its size, usually about 2 to 4 years. It has many predators: humans (and cars), dogs, cats, owls and larger wildlife.

Interesting Trivia: The opossum was a favourite game animal in the southern United States, in particular, and was widely consumed as evidenced by recipes in older editions of the Joy of Cooking! In Mexico, Opossum tails are eaten to improve fertility. Opossum oil or grease has been used as a chest rub and, when combined with other medicinal ingredients, has been used as a topical salve for arthritis.

Identifying Information: It is about the size of a large house cat with grey to black fur and black eyes. The head and body can be up to 21” long and the hairless “rat-like” tail can be up to 20” long. It has a long pointed, pinkish nose with a white face. Its footprint is similar to a raccoon’s except that it has a “thumb-like” toe that extends straight out from the foot.

Now that one of these animals has been spotted in our area, I will be on the lookout for them.

Please feel free to report any observations to to Steve Blight at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Lorraine Julien at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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