Yup – there he is – another furry gray body with a rat’s tail, mashed on the road. Mr. Opossum. I’m curious about him. Rarely do I see one alive. Instead, they’re all dead on the road. Is there something about ‘possums that makes them more likely to be ‘roadkill’ than other species?
I found the following information in the 2013 Farmers’ Almanac in an article titled, “Mother Nature’s Janitor.” I was surprised to learn that:
- An opossum’s intelligence is on a par with that of a pig (which is smarter than a dog!)
- It is similar to many cats in size, weighing 12 to 15 pounds at maturity.
- It is as fastidious as most cats.
- It has black eyes that may appear ‘beady’ because they do not have an iris.
“Fossil remains indicate that opossums have existed essentially unchanged for 70 million years. Females mate twice a year, birthing (just 13 days after breeding) sometimes as many as 20 bean-sized babies. These joeys (like their kangaroo cousins) follow the mother’s belly hair into a fur-lined pouch called the marsupium, where there are 13 teats. Those that successfully make the journey to the pouch remain there attached to a nipple for about 2 months.
“When the joeys are about the size of a mouse, they emerge to ride on the mother’s back, where they cling to her hair for several weeks. [If they fall off, the joey makes a sneezing sound. Mother responds with a clicking sound, and eventually they reunite.]
“Within a few months, after the joeys have mastered basic survival skills, they set off on their own.”
Opossums move often, every few days. They make their dens in the vacant homes of other animals, including unoccupied doghouses. They don’t hibernate, and are usually active at night.
My sources note that opossums are harmless, non-destructive creatures, and are not aggressive. They can live up to 10 years in captivity, but probably won’t live longer than a year in the wild. Many other animals eat them, including people. (In the 1800s they were a food staple in poor southeastern U.S.homes.)
The animal’s only defense when attacked is to hiss or growl. When cornered, they go so still that they appear to be dead, even releasing a scent that mimics a decaying animal. (Hence – playing ‘possum.)
Opossums are omnivores, eating many things including insects, snails, snakes, slugs, grasses, berries, bird eggs, human garbage and pet food. Their favorite meal is carrion (dead meat), which they often find on roads.
So, that possum you just ran over was probably having dinner, doing his job as one of nature’s many janitors.
I will forever think of ‘possums differently now that I’ve learned about them! I hope you will, too.