Virginia Opossums

provided by Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife

Virginia Opossums (Didelphis virginiana) are North America’s only marsupial and can give birth to between ten to thirteen babies, which the mother holds inside of her pouch. In addition to holding the title of the only pouched mammal on the continent, they also have the most teeth of any land mammal in North America with a total of fifty. Other common characteristics include a white, black, or brown coat; opposable, clawless thumbs on their four limbs; a long pink tail approximately the length of their body, and a long snout with a pink nose. These mammals are primarily nocturnal and are opportunistic scavengers. As omnivores, these animals will eat anything they can find, including fruits, vegetables, vegetation, insects, small rodents, and even fish.

Virginia Opossums have unique adaptations making them ecologically beneficial to humans. They are immune to snake venom due to their low body temperature making them not a good host for the venom to thrive. A protein in the amino acid chain in opossums has been used to create an anti-venom used when humans are bitten by venomous snakes. Additionally, these mammals have a slightly lower body temperature than other mammals, ranging from 94-97 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of this, opossums have an extremely decreased chance of contracting viruses such as rabies and distemper; this also makes them less prone to Lyme disease despite eating more than 5,000 ticks each year. This helps alleviate the spread of Lyme disease, which can affect over 400,000 people in the United States each year.

‘Playing opossum’ occurs involuntarily when an opossum confronts a great deal of stress and goes into shock. Typically, the opossum will appear to be deceased, and can even excrete a carrion-like smell. This state can last anywhere from 45 minutes to 6 hours. An Opossum’s main defense mechanism is hissing and showing their teeth, although they are mostly non-confrontational and view humans as threats.

Virginia Opossums are prone to a myriad of human-caused injuries. One of the most common causes of admittance to CROW is being struck by a car. Other causes can include dog attacks, rodenticide poisoning, being found as babies orphaned, abandoned, or abducts, or other unknown trauma and systemic disease. Due to the high number of offspring following breeding season, CROW can become filled with opossum patients, especially orphaned babies, in a matter of weeks. Recently, a mother opossum was admitted to CROW (#22-787) after being attacked by a dog. The opossum is showing improvement and successfully nursing her joeys in her pouch. This mom opossum has four joeys in her pouch. The joeys will remain in their mother’s pouch for around two and a half months, then will climb onto their mothers back and remain there for one to three months.

Opossums have extremely short lifespans relative to other mammals, usually living only around one and a half to two years in the wild. This could be due to their short gestation period (only 12 days), their high number of offspring, and other human caused deaths, mainly struck by a car. Typically, opossums will breed between December and August, and will have two litters per year. Although they are misunderstood animals, they provide copious advantages to humans. To help Virginia Opossums, educate yourself and others about their benefits. If an opossum is seen on the side of the road or hit by a car, wear proper PPE, check the pouch for joeys, and contact your local rehabilitation center.

There were over 30 new patients admitted to CROW this week, including a blue jay, a cedar waxwing, a common grackle, two double-crested cormorants, eastern cottontails, a herring gull, a nine-banded armadillo, and Virginia opossums. Recent releases include a Mexican free-tailed bat, two green sea turtles, and a kemp’s ridley sea turtle. Check out a full list of CROW’s current patients and recent releases.

Wildlife doesn’t have health insurance! Your donations help cover the costs of medical and rehabilitative care for over 5,000 patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital each year.

Want to learn more about wildlife rehabilitation? Stop by CROW’s Visitor Education Center at 3883 Sanibel Captiva Road.

About Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW)
Established in 1968, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) is a teaching hospital saving the sick, injured and orphaned native and migratory wildlife of Southwest Florida and beyond.  Through state-of-the-art veterinary care, public education programs and an engaging visitor center, CROW works to improve the health of the environment, humans and our animals through wildlife medicine. For more information, or to plan your visit, go to the CROW website. If you find an animal that is in need of help, call (239) 472-3644 ext. #222.

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