A handful of people knew that last week’s puzzler was the tail of a opossum–a Virginia opossum to be exact. (Didelphis virginians). Were you one of them?
The Virginia Opossum is an interesting animal, most notably because it is a marsupial, meaning a mammal that has a pouch in which they carry their young. Think kangaroo,wallobee, koala bear. These mammals do give live birth, it’s just that they have a super short gestation period. When the tiny babies are born, they make their way into their mother’s pouch and spend time growing there before they are ready to live independently.
There are a lot of myths about opossums… you’ve probably heard some of them. For instance, even though popular folklore will have you believe that they sleep hanging from their tails, this is not true. Nor is the fact that they they can pretend to play dead when danger threatens. “Playing possum” as it is sometimes called DOES happen, but not in the way that people think. To clarify, opossums’ first line of defense against a potential predator is to hiss and show their teeth, much like a house cat. If that fails, the creature may try to climb a tree or scurry away to safety. But sometimes, none of these tactics work. It is then that the opossum may fall over in a catatonic state, its eyes wide open and body limp, looking for all intents and purposes like it is dead. But this tactic is not a conscious choice the opossum makes–instead, it is a reflex action that happens in the circumstances. “Dead” opossums can stay that way for hours!
Did you ever wonder why an opossum’s tail is naked? There is a Cherokee story about this that I loved to tell to children’s groups when I was talking about opossums. It tells how in the old days the opossum had the most beautiful tail of all the animals… but then something happened and now it is no longer so.
The Virginia opossum is a fascinating animal! A while back I featured them in my Weekly Creature Feature and learned a lot of amazing thing about them…. like do you know how big they are when they are born? Or how many babies mama opossum has? Or how long the babies stay with Mom in the pouch? If you want to learn, check out my 10 Things You didn’t know about opossums post.
Or, if you want, check out this week’s puzzler–another one featuring an animal tail!