In the photo above, look out the window to the right of the monitor on my mini-fridge, and just up and left of the picture of the red 1992 Ferrari 512 TR (not the first time I've used one of these Italian supercars in relation to a mammal, SEE HERE). A Virginia Opossum, Didelphis virginiana, resting in my crabapple tree!
Back in 2006, I wrote a column about Virginia Opossums in the Columbus Dispatch. It follows:
Perhaps our most successful mammal is also our dumbest. Not to sound crass, but it’s true – Virginia opossums have a marble-sized brain. That’s why you see so many smashed along our roadsides. A dim wit coupled with slow reactions means that opossums never seem to recognize vehicles as threats, as more intelligent mammals like coyotes and red foxes do.
But the fact that we see so many opossums amongst the roadside carnage points to their success – there are lots of them. They’ve been around a while, too – their lineage can be traced back 100 million years.
Tropical in origin, opossums have not yet evolved adaptations like dense fur to protect them in northern winters. Their ears and tail are furless, occasionally leading to frostbite. Still, they continue their expansion, long ago colonizing Ohio and still spreading north.
Didelphis virginiana is North America’s only marsupial (pouch-bearing animal). Like kangaroos, females have a fur-lined pouch on their belly that shelters young. Baby opossums emerge blind and naked, and about the size of a piece of popcorn. In a rough introduction to life, the babies must clamber several inches from the vagina to the pouch immediately after birth. There they remain for 60 days, then stay together as a family unit for three more months. Sometimes the mother will carry the youngsters on her back.
Opossums also have the most teeth of any Ohio mammal – fifty. This dental excess serves them well in their omnivorous habits; opossums are true garbage heads, eating nearly anything they can find.
The term “playing ‘possum” is derived from these beasts. When frightened, they may fall over, let their mouth gape open and ooze saliva, looking thoroughly dead.
Opossums prove that even dummies can be successful.