Common Name: Opossum
Nicknames: Possum, Oppossum
Taphonomy: Animalia; Chordata; Mammalia; Marsupialia; Didelphimorphia; Didelphidae; various species: (Virginia Opossum) “Didelphis virginiana”. Bishop’s Slender Opossum (Marmosops bishopi); Narrow-headed Slender Opossum (Marmosops cracens); Creighton’s slender opossum Marmosops creightoni; Dorothys’ Slender Opossum (Marmosops dorothea); Dusky Slender Opossum (Marmosops fuscatus); Handley’s Slender Opossum (Marmosops handleyi); Tschudi’s Slender Opossum (Marmosops impavidus); Gray Slender Opossum (Marmosops incanus); Panama Slender Opossum (Marmosops invictus); Junin Slender Opossum (Marmosops juninensis); Neblina Slender Opossum (Marmosops neblina); White-bellied Slender Opossum (Marmosops noctivagus); Delicate Slender Opossum (Marmosops parvidens); Brazilian Slender Opossum (Marmosops paulensis); Pinheiro’s Slender Opossum (Marmosops pinheiroi); Genus Metachirus: Brown Four-eyed Opossum (Metachirus myosuros); Genus Micoureus: Alston’s Mouse Opossum (Micoureus alstoni); White-bellied Woolly Mouse Opossum (Micoureus constantiae); Woolly Mouse Opossum (Micoureus demerarae); Tate’s Woolly Mouse Opossum (Micoureus paraguayanus); Little Woolly Mouse Opossum (Micoureus phaeus); Bare-tailed Woolly Mouse Opossum (Micoureus regina); and hundreds of others.
Age on planet: Evidence for existence from the Late Cretaceous to present day era (as of this writing 2011).
Opossums were first named after the Virginia species as “opossum” in 1610 after the proto-Algonquian aposoum that means “white dog” or “white beast”, classifying a species of the largest order of marsupials known in the western Hemisphere. They range from small to medium size from the visual range of a small mouse to a large house cat. Semi-arboreal, with long snouts, narrow braincase, prominent sagittal crest, and an omnivore appetite. Dental formula is lower 4, 1, 3, 4 and upper as 5, 1, 3, 4 with very small incisors, tricuspid molars, and large canines. Feet are flat on the ground with hind feet consisting of an opossable digit with no claw. Similar evolutionary history as New World monkeys, they have prehensile tails. Only young babies will dangle temporarily from trees by their tails, not found characteristic in adults. All will use the tail as a brace and fifth limb while climbing or as a grip to grab leaves and nesting material. As a marsupial, they possess pouches on the female sex. The pouch contains the divided uterus and marsupium. The young gestate from 12-14 days and after birth the newborn has to find their own way into the marsupium to nurse off the teat. Males tend to be heavier, larger, and with larger canines than the female sex of course with no pouch. The male has a bifurcated penis and the female has a bifurcated vagina – the sperm forms conjugate pairs before fertilization to help ensure survival of its genotypical spermatozoa. This assists the poly-process when females mate with multiple males and increases motility and enhancement of fertilization success. However, many young fail to attach to the teat in the marsupium so there is a large birth-loss. Upwards of 13 young can attach to the teat at a time weaning from 70-125 days leading to leaving the pouch. An oppossum life span is usually only 2-4 years. Their immune system is extremely robust with partial or total immunity to many poisonous snakes like pit vipers, rattlesnakes, and cottonmouths. While accused of being carriers for rabies, they are eight times less likely to have rabies than wild dogs, and only 1 out of 800 are infected with said virus. Opossums have a broad and diverse diet but primarily carrion or roadkill, insects, frogs, birds, earthworms, small mammals, and snakes. They also eat apples, clementines, persimmons, and avocados. They are also known to eat human waste, garbage, and pet food. As they scavange for roadkill, they often become roadkill, and known to be nomadic, solitary creatures staying local in an area as long as food and water is available, moving on to the next location when resources run dry. Opossums live in abandoned ready-made burrows, sometimes with family units, or under houses, as too lazy to put effort in making their own home. Opossums are nocturnal, hunting in the dark, and are semi-blind. When threatened they will “play dead”, lips drawn back, teeth bared, foamed saliva around mouth, eyes half-closed or closed, and anal glands excreting a foul-smelling fluid mimicking the smell, and stiff curled body carrying an appearance of a sick or dead animal for 40 minutes – 4 hours. While threatened, if not playing dead, they will growl deeply raising pitch. Males make a clicking “smack” noise from side of their mouths while searching for a mate. When separated, the young often make a sneezing noise to signal their mother.
Meat/Predators: Humans are the opossums biggest predator. Often hunted and consumed in the United States in the backwoods. Common as well in Dominica and Trinidad. Meat is often smoked then stewed. Meat is light and fine-grained but must have the musk glands removed during preparation. Often used as a substitute for chicken and rabbit meat.
Medicinal: Mexican common folk use the opossum tail as a dietary supplement to improve fertility. Possum Grease or Opossum oil is used as a chest rub and a carrier for arthritis as a topical salve since it is high in essential fatty acids.