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  • Indianapolis Educational Article of the Month - About Opossum: Appearance, biology, life cycle, habitat, diet, behavior

About Opossum: Appearance, biology, life cycle, habitat, diet, behavior

The opossum, more commonly called the possum, are odd animals that have proven to be unbelievably adaptable to a wide range of areas and habitats including Indiana. They are able to adjust their diet and live off of the available sources of food, even when these sources have not been a part of their diet before.

Opossums range in size from that equal to a large cat down to a small mouse. They have long snouts and slim down the face much in the way a cone looks. They are creatures that walk on all fours, but the back feet are constructed differently than the front paws. On the back feet there is an opposable digit that is separated from the other four toes; however, on the front feet all five digits are spread apart evenly across the foot. These are marsupial animals meaning that the mother gives birth to the young and then they reside in her pouch until they have reached a certain age. The young are born very shortly after the egg is fertilized, usually no longer than 12 to 14 days after conception. This is primarily due to the fact that the placenta does not last long in the mother, and the young would die if they were not birthed earlier.

The young are weaned somewhere between70 to 125 after birth depending upon rate of growth and safety. Some animals are able to stay with the mother for longer periods of time because the conditions are safer for her to do so. Most opossums in Indianapolis live to be two to four years of age. Even in captivity their life spans are fairly short primarily because their aging is quick. Opossums are solitary figures, only uniting around other opossums for breeding. They also are quite nomadic, rarely staying in one area for two long. They will remain for an extended period of time if the food source in Indiana is such that it is readily available and it is safe to continually return to get more.

Many will choose to live under houses or in abandoned burrows for shelter. While they enjoy the comfort of these places, they are not often protective of their temporary homes. If challenged they will frequently abandon the spot rather than risk being killed or hurt. In fact, opossums are often considered the least courageous of mammals. Their primary defense is to play dead, in hopes that other animals will bypass them altogether. Opossums are even able to secret an odor that makes them smell like they have been dead for some time, thus causing other Indianapolis animals to ignore them out of fear that they are rotten. There are instances where groups of opossums will reside in the same burrow if they are in need of greater safety because of the larger numbers, or if conditions demand a solitary home for many. This usually occurs during dangerous weather conditions. It seems instinctually that these animals will not become offended or combative with other Indianapolis opossums who choose to reside where they are located.

Opossums in Indiana have a very full jaw. It has large canine teeth and small incisors. The molars are tricuspid shaped. The shape of the jaw and the types of teeth that the possums have give them the ability to eat a diversified array of food, including both meat and vegetables.

One of the most interesting features of the opossum is that they are quite immune to most venom from other animals. For example, a possum can survive a bite from a rattlesnake, cottonmouth or pit viper, things would kill a human being quite easily.

These animals are incredibly dangerous to come in contact with because they are quite likely to be carrying the rabies vaccine. One in eight hundred has the disease and, while that seems like a small amount, consider that there are tens of millions of possums in North America alone. That means that there are hundreds of thousands of the species of mammal with the disease.

While possums may not look particularly good, many find them to be a rather tasty treat to enjoy. At one point the possum was almost completely wiped out in Virginia because of hunting and consumption of the animal. Now they are only able to be hunted during certain times of the year, but they are still low in numbers in many states throughout the country. In many Caribbean nations the possum is often used to replace rabbit or chicken in meals. In many countries it is believed that eating the tail of a possum will increase fertility, and some believe that possum oil has healing powers. It is used as a medicinal ingredient in cures and remedies for arthritis and burns. No word if scientific studies have proven the effectiveness of possum oil in these treatments.

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