Christopher Taylor Bird Nature Wildlife Mammal Photography
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GALLERIES > MAMMALS > OPOSSUM [Didelphimorphia Didelphidae]


Opossum Image @ Kiwifoto.com
 
 
Location: Mar Vista, CA
GPS: 34.0N, -118.4W, elev=25' MAP
Date: April 13, 2008
ID : 8554 [3888 x 2592]

Opossum Picture @ Kiwifoto.com
 
 
Location: Mar Vista, CA
GPS: 34.0N, -118.4W, elev=25' MAP
Date: April 13, 2008
ID : 8557 [3888 x 2592]

nature photography

Opossum Image @ Kiwifoto.com
 
 
Location: Los Angeles, CA
GPS: 34.1N, -118.2W, elev=281' MAP
Date: September 1, 2010
ID : ? [3888 x 2592]

bird photography

Opossum Photo @ Kiwifoto.com
 
 
Location: Los Angeles, CA
GPS: 34.1N, -118.2W, elev=281' MAP
Date: September 1, 2010
ID : ? [3888 x 2592]

bird photography

Opossum Picture @ Kiwifoto.com
 
 
Location: Los Angeles, CA
GPS: 34.1N, -118.2W, elev=281' MAP
Date: September 1, 2010
ID : ? [3888 x 2592]

bird photography

Opossum Photo @ Kiwifoto.com
 
 
Location: Mar Vista, CA
GPS: 34.0N, -118.4W, elev=25' MAP
Date: April 13, 2008
ID : 8559 [3888 x 2592]

bird photography

SPECIES INFO

Didelphimorphia is the order of common opossums of the Western Hemisphere. Opossums probably diverged from the basic South American marsupials in the late Cretaceous or early Paleocene. A sister group is Paucituberculata (shrew opossums). They are commonly also called "possums," though that term is also applied to Australian fauna of the suborder Phalangeriformes. The Virginia Opossum is the original animal named "opossum". The word comes from Algonquian wapathemwa. Colloquially, the Virginia opossum is frequently called simply possum.

Their unspecialized biology, flexible diet and reproductive strategy make them successful colonizers and survivors in unsettled times. Originally native to the eastern United States, the Virginia Opossum was intentionally introduced into the west during the Great Depression, probably as a source of food. Its range has been expanding steadily northwards, thanks in part to more plentiful, man-made sources of fresh water, increased shelter due to urban encroachment, and milder winters. Its range has extended into Ontario, Canada, and it has been found farther north than Toronto.

Didelphimorphs are small to medium-sized marsupials, with the largest about the size of a large house cat, and the smallest the size of a mouse. They tend to be semi-arboreal omnivores, although there are many exceptions. Most members of this taxon have long snouts, a narrow braincase, and a prominent sagittal crest. The dental formula is:

5.1.3.4
4.1.3.4

By mammal standards, this is a very full jaw. The incisors are very small, the canines large, and the molars are tricuspid.

Didelphimorphs have a plantigrade stance (feet flat on the ground) and the hind feet have an opposable digit with no claw. Like some primates, opossums have prehensile tails. The stomach is simple, with a small cecum.

Opossums have a remarkably robust immune system, and show partial or total immunity to the venom of rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, and other pit vipers. Thanks to their lower blood temperature, rabies is almost unknown in opossums.

Opossum reproductive systems are extremely basic[citation needed], with a reduced marsupium. This means that the young are born at a very early stage, although the gestation period is similar to many other small marsupials, at only 12-14 days. The species are moderately sexually dimorphic with males usually being somewhat larger than females. The largest difference between the opossum and other mammals is the bifurcated penis of the male and bifurcated vagina of the female (the source of the Latin "didelphis," meaning double-wombed).

Female opposums often give birth to very large numbers of young, most of which fail to attach to a teat, although anything up to fifteen young can attach, and therefore survive, depending on species. The young are weaned between 70 and 125 days, when they detach from the teat and leave the pouch. The opossum lifespan is unusually short for a mammal of its size, usually only 2 to 4 years. Senescence is rapid.

Didelphimorphs are opportunistic omnivores with a very broad diet. Their diet mainly consists of carrion and many individual opossums are killed on the highway when scavenging for roadkill. They are also known to eat insects, frogs, birds, snakes, small mammals, and earthworms. Some of their favorite foods are fruits and are known to eat apples and persimmons. Their broad diet allows them to take advantage of many sources of food provided by human habitation such as unsecured food waste (garbage) and pet food.

Opossums are usually solitary and nomadic, staying in one area as long as food and water are easily available. Though they will temporarily occupy abandoned burrows, they do not dig or put much effort into building their own. As nocturnal animals, they favor dark, secure areas. These areas may be below ground or above.

When threatened or harmed, they will "play possum", mimicking the appearance and smell of a sick or dead animal. The lips are drawn back, teeth are bared, saliva foams around the mouth, and a foul-smelling fluid is secreted from the anal glands. The physiological response is involuntary, rather than a conscious act. Their stiff, curled form can be prodded, turned over, and even carried away. Many injured opossums have been killed by well-meaning people who find a catatonic animal and assume the worst. The best thing to do upon finding an injured or apparently dead opossum is to leave it in a quiet place with a clear exit path. In minutes or hours, the animal will regain consciousness and escape quietly on its own.

Adult opossums do not hang from trees by their tails, though babies may dangle temporarily. Their prehensile tails are not strong enough to support a mature adult's weight. Instead, the opossum uses its tail as a brace and a fifth limb when climbing. The tail is occasionally used as a grip to carry bunches of leaves or bedding materials to the nest. A mother will sometimes carry her young upon her back, where they will cling tightly even when she is climbing or running.

Threatened opossums (especially male) will growl deeply, raising the pitch as the threat becomes more urgent. Males make a clicking "smack" noise out of the side of their mouths as they wander in search of a mate, and females will sometimes repeat the sound in return. When separated or distressed, baby opossums will make a sneezing noise to signal their mother.

An early description of the opossum comes from explorer John Smith, who wrote in Map of Virginia, with a Description of the Countrey, the Commodities, People, Government and Religion in 1608 that "An Opassom hath an head like a Swine, and a taile like a Rat, and is of the bignes of a Cat. Under her belly she hath a bagge, wherein she lodgeth, carrieth, and sucketh her young.". The Opossum was more formally described in 1698 in a published letter entitled "Carigueya, Seu Marsupiale Americanum Masculum. Or, The Anatomy of a Male Opossum: In a Letter to Dr Edward Tyson," from Mr William Cowper, Chirurgeon, and Fellow of the Royal Society, London, by Edward Tyson, M. D. Fellow of the College of Physicians and of the Royal Society. The letter suggests even earlier descriptions.

The opossum was a favorite game animal in the United States, and in particular the southern regions which have a large body of recipes and folklore relating to the opossum. Opossum was once widely consumed in the United States where available as evidenced by recipes in older editions of The Joy of Cooking. In Dominica and Trinidad opossum or "manicou" is popular and can only be hunted during certain times of the year due to over-hunting; the meat is traditionally prepared by smoking then stewing. The meat is light and fine grained, but the musk glands must be removed as part of preparation. The meat can be used in place of rabbit and chicken in recipes. The cousin of the opossum, the possum, found in Australia (and introduced to New Zealand) is consumed in a similar manner. (Davidson, 1999)

Historically, hunters in the Caribbean would place a barrel with fresh or rotten fruit to attract opossums who would feed on the fruit or insects. Cubans growing up in the mid-twentieth century tell of brushing the maggots out of the mouths of "manicou" caught in this manner to prepare them for consumption. It is said also that the gaminess of the meat causes gas.[citation needed]

In Mexico, opossums are known as "tlacuache" or "tlaquatzin". Their tails are eaten as a folk remedy to improve fertility.

Opossum oil (Possum grease) is high in essential fatty acids and has been used as a chest rub and a carrier for arthritis remedies given as topical salves.



                                     



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