In this article, we will dispel some myths and tell you interesting facts about opossums. In particular, consider one interesting feature of these marsupials – how they pretend to be dead.
The famous German zoologist and traveler Alfred Brehm described this marsupial without much sympathy:
"It is not distinguished by any coloration or any attractive features of character, and is justly considered an extremely nasty creature... The character of the opossum is as unattractive as its figure... Due to the harm that the opossum causes to poultry if it enters the farm, it everywhere they hate and mercilessly persecute... He is lethargic, lazy, sleepy and, it seems, disgustingly stupid... If you tease an animal, then only one movement can be obtained from him: he opens his mouth as far as he can, and keeps it open all the time, while standing in front of him, as if a spacer had been inserted into his mouth".
However, not all of these words are true. Under natural conditions, this animal is not so stupid and insensitive as it seemed to the great naturalist. Usually the opossum is not at all lethargic and drowsy, but, on the contrary, is very agile. After all, he is a predator, and for food he needs to track down and catch other animals (squirrels, rats, frogs, birds, etc). However, the beast is agile and fast in its "native element" – on the trees, but on the ground it moves slowly and clumsily.
Of course, this predator is very dangerous for poultry, as it is a real robber. Instead of hiding with prey, the opossum arranges a real feast in the chicken coop, drinking only the blood of the defeated chickens. Often he falls asleep right at the scene of the crime. It is not surprising that the farmers who find him there do not have particularly warm feelings for the animal and try to finish him off. But far from always, these meetings end tragically for possums. The thing is, they're great actors. In case of danger, the beast simply pretends to be dead, while enduring any pain. Seeing that the animal is “dead” (it lies motionless, its eyes are glassy, its paws are spread out, and even its mouth is ajar), the farmer leaves. And the opossum needs it. The "dead" beast jumps up and runs away. Such an imaginary death (catalepsy) often saves the life of these marsupials, not only when meeting a person, but also in the event of a collision with other enemies.
When opossums are threatened or harmed, they "play possum" by mimicking the look and smell of a sick or dead animal. This physiological reaction is involuntary (like fainting) and not a conscious act.
When a possum "plays possum", its eyes glaze over, foam flows from its mouth, and anal glands emit a secret with an unpleasant odor. Usually the animal regains consciousness after a certain period – from several minutes to four hours, and this process begins with a slight twitching of the ears.
Interestingly, the brains of baby opossums do not always react in this way at the right moment, and therefore they often cannot "play dead" when they are threatened.
I must say that in America they are well aware of the animal's ability to pretend. In English, there is even an expression "play possum", used in the meaning of "pretend", "deceive".
These animals live in North, Central and South America. The possum family includes more than 120 modern species. The sizes of possums are small: the body length of different species ranges from 7 to 50 cm.
Opossums are commonly found in areas such as forests, bushlands, mangroves, rainforests, eucalyptus forests, etc. They are usually solitary and nomadic, staying in one place as long as food and water are readily available. Some families gather together in prepared burrows or even under houses. Although they temporarily occupy abandoned burrows, they do not dig or put much effort into building their own. As nocturnal animals, they prefer dark, safe places. Such places may be underground or above ground.
Many large opossums are immune to the venom of rattlesnakes and vipers and regularly prey on these snakes. Similar adaptations are seen in other small predatory mammals such as mongooses and hedgehogs.
Regarding newborn baby possums, many researchers have written that opossums "appear like buds on tree branches, develop on the mother's nipples and then separate." By the way, in our time, some people think that marsupial cubs are born in a bag. In fact, this is not so.
Interestingly, newborn animals are so small that all together (and sometimes there are up to 20 individuals) fit in a teaspoon. Immediately after birth, blind and helpless, they set off on a journey to the mother's (brood) pouch. To help the babies, the mother carefully licks the path on her belly. Having reached the nipple, the cub hangs on it. A similar system is observed in other marsupial mammals – kangaroos.
Opossum cubs live with their mother for up to 3,5 months. From the age of two months, they travel on the back of their mother, holding on to the wool.
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