From my earliest memories as a child, I had a several nice big books with pictures and stories about common animals. The images were drawn, pen and ink in subdued colors. There were deer, raccoon, a wolverine and a drawing of a mama opossum (or “possum”) with a litter of babies riding on her back. So, I have known about this behavior for many years.
But, this morning was the first time I have seen it for myself, live, in nature. Looking out the kitchen window toward the pasture, I saw two possums walking along the fence. They then came around in front of Grover’s smokehouse, and it was then that I realized the larger, apparently mama possum had four little ones riding on her back. The second adult, smaller, presumably the male, skulked along behind them.
Of course, I grabbed my camera. Possums are not speedy creatures. I was able to get within a few feet to get some good photos.
The possum is the only Marsupial native to North America. The female gives birth to up to several dozen babies that are less than an inch long. These babies make their way to the mother’s pouch on her belly. Inside the pouch are 13 teats . Therefore, only the first 13 babies will survive, initially. Of these, eight or nine will survive to two-and-a-half months, when they will leave the pouch.
They then the climb up on the mother’s back and ride around there for four or five months. Life is harsh for babies, and if they fall off, they will be abandoned. Eventually three or four will survive to the point where they leave their mother. Even then, they may fall victim to predators or starvation. The female possum may have two or three litters per year.
Possums are omnivorous, eating a wide range of plants and animals, including fruits, grains, insects, snails, small mammals and reptiles.
Possums do play “possum” when attacked or threatened. This is an effective survival strategy, provided the attacker is not a hungry carnivore.
Also, possums have a prehensile tail, which means they can use the tail to assist as they climb through trees. They can hang by their tails, but only briefly.