About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Photo Share: Like having a unicorn visit

For me, having an opossum visit my yard is like seeing a unicorn. These sweet-natured and adorable creatures are the only marsupials in North America. This means that they are mammals that give birth after only 13 days gestation to tiny gummy bears about the size of grains of rice. These babies then have to make their way to their momma's belly pouch to finish developing. An average litter is eight or nine joeys, and the average time they stay in their mother's pouch is about two-and-a-half months, before eventually climbing on her back. Their eyes open in 58 to 72 days and they are weaned and on their own at approximately 5 months of age. The breeding season for our opossums can begin as early as December and continue through October with most young born between February and June.

The opossum is also unique because it is the only mammal in the United States with a prehensile tail, which can be used for grasping like a hand. Young opossums sometimes even hang by their tails. And they are the only mammal that has four fingers and an opposable thumb on each of its hind feet that works like a human thumb. All nails are nonretractable, except for the thumb.

From Wikipedia: Marsupials are any members of the mammalian infraclass Marsupialia. Well-known marsupials include kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, possums, opossums, wombats, and Tasmanian devils. Some lesser-known marsupials are the potoroo and the quokka.

Marsupials represent the clade originating from the last common ancestor of extant metatherians.  Close to 70% of the 334 extant species occur on the Australian continent. The remaining 100 are found primarily in South America, but thirteen in Central America, and only the
Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) in North America.

Opossums are very necessary animals to our environment. They are scavengers and help keep the earth clean. They feed on carrion, or road kill, invertebrates, seeds, fruits, nuts and small vertebrates. Opossums also keep rats and cockroaches at bay by eating them if they find them in their territory. Opossums are mostly immune to rabies, and have partial or total immunity to the venom produced by rattlesnakes, cottonmouths and other pit vipers. They tend to go about their business mostly at night and have a solitary life. They are usually non-aggressive and prefer to “play possum” or fake death.

So if you see one crossing the road slow down to let them pass. And if they visit your yard just let them do their business. Studies give less than a 50% chance of survival to relocated animals. The Virginia opossum, should be viewed as the great “groundskeeper.”  When left alone, the opossum does not attack pets, chew your telephone or electric wires, spread disease, dig up your flower bulbs or turn over your trash cans. On the contrary, the opossum does a great service in insect, venomous snake, and rodent control. He takes as his pay only what he eats, and maybe a sheltered place to sleep.

“Attacks” by opossums are simply non-existent. When they get too close, or move under the deck just let them be. If you are lucky enough to have one of these guys come around, you can rest assured he is cleaning up what he can, and will soon move along.

Related Articles:
Opposums are natural predators of ticks https://goo.gl/UqEBqn
What do Opossums eat? http://what-do-opposums-eat.html
Mysterious Regurgitated Nuggets Left Behind at Birdfeeder http://regurgitated-nuggets-left.html
Do turkeys eat ticks or carry ticks? http://turkeys-eat-ticks.html  
How to attract robins to your yard http://attract-robins-to-your-yard.html

If anyone else would like to share a photograph of nature send it to bloubird@gmail.com with a description and permission to post it on the Friday Photo.

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