I finally tired of not knowing whether a possum and an opossum were the same creature and if not, what was the difference. In the process, I found some really interesting things about these animals.
First, they are different animals, though both names are shared by the opossum which is the animal found in the Southeastern United States, most common is the Virginia Opossum (shown). It’s the only marsupial of any kind, that is found naturally outside of the Australian continent. Marsupials are of course mammals that bear live young and nurse them for a time in the mother’s pouch (like kangaroos and koalas).
As if that were not enough, here are some fascinating facts about opossums:
- Opossums play dead when distressed. It’s not quite the pretense that people tend to imagine. It’s an involuntary reaction to a threatening situation in which the opossum falls prone, experiences decreased respiration and heartbeat, and secretes a musky decaying odor from its rectum. One can imagine the stepwise evolutionary development of this behavior in which successively more convincing death acts enabled ever increasing chances of survival. For example, did the odor come before or after the decreased metabolism???
- Opossums cannot hibernate. In cold climates, they are often found with frostbite as a result.
- The opossum is the only mammal that has an odd number of nipples. The Virginia Opossum has 13. Though an odd number, they remain symmetrical with one in the center and the other twelve in a surrounding circle.
- The opossum frequently has litters larger than the number of available nipples. As a marsupial, a newborn requires a nipple to latch onto or they die immediately. Therefore a great many babies die at birth. Let the Intelligent Design proponents explain that one.
- The opossum has the shortest gestation period of any mammal, 12 days.