Specimen of the Week: Week Twenty-Two
By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 12 March 2012
I want you to guess a location. If I say ‘marsupial’, you say…
Modern marsupials are in fact also found in both North and South America. North America has only acquired one modern species but South America has plenty. To celebrate this exciting fact of the day, the specimen of the week this week is…
**!!!The opossum pouch young!!!**
1) Opossums are marsupials, which means that females have a pouch in which they nourish their underdeveloped young (see image, right). The pouch opening resembles more of a belly button than that of the iconic kangaroo which, quite frankly, has just gone to extremes.
2) Opossums are bad at maths. A single litter will contain up to 18 joeys, however the pouch only has 13 teats. In an epic battle, worthy of daytime reality tv, only the strong survive. The winners attach themselves to the teats, where they stay for 50 days. They begin to leave the pouch after a further 20 days.
3) Opossums are omnivores and not afraid to show it. They will eat almost anything they find and subsequently flourish around human settlements due to our filthy habits and inadequate methods of waste disposal. In a natural setting, the opossum would eat eggs, grubs, flowers, fruits and carrion.
4) Opossums are probably most famous for the way they deal with a threat. Instead of running, or standing their ground, in a quite cartoon-like fashion an opossum will fall on the ground with its eyes and mouth open, and ‘play dead’. Like me on a Monday morning, you can poke and prod it, and it just won’t respond. It can stay like that for up to six hours at a time.
5) Opossums have one of the shortest life spans of any mammal of their size. They only live for between two and four years in the wild. Awwww, sad face.
This opossum, which appears to be wearing fingerless gloves, is the Virginia opossum, and the only marsupial native to North America.