Underdogs of the Animal World: Opossum
When I say Possum, what do you think of?
A) A strange, American rat-like creature with a fondness for trash cans and far too many teeth?
B) An adorable fluffy, Aussie marsupial that hangs out at night, nibbling on eucalyptus and just generally being cute?
C) I’m too busy singing the song from The Lego Movie over and over and over again to play your dumb guessing games?
Well if you said anything apart from B, you’d be sorta wrong, but sorta not. This is the confusing bit. In 1608, Captain John Smith saw this animal and thought ‘Shall I call it a Rattus Teethus? Perhaps something simple, like Barry? Nope, I’ve got it. I shall name thee Opossum.’ And thus it was done, and everyone was happy with that, until they decided that Opossum was too hard to say and shortened it to Possum instead. And everyone was happy with THAT until a naturalist from Captain James Cook’s expedition wandered over to Australia, saw one of these balls of adorable fluff and called them Possums too. And then the world exploded because everyone was confused. Except it didn’t, and for some reason, the Aussie Possum holds the rights to the name, and the American ones are actually Opossums, but prefer to be called Barry.
Opossums are hardly the most popular creature, and that might have something to do with the fact that they’ll eat almost anything, including garbage, fruit, vegetables, snails, slugs, snakes, insects, rats and mice. Since the animals they find the most delicious aren’t really on Regina George’s level of popularity, it’s a wonder that they’re not more appreciated. Then again, their food habits can get a bit icky. Since Opossums need a lot of calcium in their diet, they’re big fans of feasting on road kill and even skeletons. Opossums might not be the brightest bulb, but they are super talented at sourcing food, and way better at it than rabbits, rats, dogs and cats.
Speaking of Opossums being a bit Karen Smith, they seriously are not the sharpest spork in the drawer. An Opossum’s brain is way smaller than other mammals of similar sizes. A raccoon has a brain six times as big, and a domestic cat has five times the grey matter of an opossum. Plus, Opossums brains don’t convulse. At all. Scientists think that the more convulsions your brain has, the more it’s doing and the smarter you are. So Opossums aren’t even not all there, they’re not there at all.
You’d think that with their limited brain capacity, Opossums wouldn’t stick around on earth very long, but nope. Opossums have been hanging around since the dinosaurs, probably nibbling on their skeletons and clattering their trash can lids. And it’s not just their intelligence (or extreme lack of it) that they’ve relied on to see them through to the modern day; Opossums are hardcore at not getting killed. An Opossum’s immune system is so awesome that they could literally get in a fight with a rattlesnake and be fine, since they’re impervious to the venom. They wouldn’t hold back on getting a bit of fighting action in either. Opossums have around fifty teeth stuffed into their little mouths, and they aren’t afraid to use them.
Another trick that got Opossums further than Barney the dinosaur is playing dead. Yep, just like in Over the Hedge, Opossums really do drop down (pretend) dead whenever they’re freaked out. And it’s not because they’re chicken, (although it couldn’t hurt to add a new form of identity crisis to the mix) they can’t help it, their body just does it, even releasing an authentic, icky smell to make it super believable. They can be ‘dead’ for up to four hours, with even prodding, hissing ‘Barry’ at increasing volume and a surprise visit from Ryan Gosling going unnoticed. Baby Opossums however are a bit confused when frightened, and their bodies tend to forget this awesome trick, making them vulnerable to everything but venomous snakes and imaginary lightsaber battles.
Opossum babies are easily made, since the female is only pregnant for twelve to fourteen DAYS. Yeah, I said days. Opossums give birth to a big litter, and in order to survive, the babies must make their way over their mom’s fur and into her pouch in order to suckle. Most of the babies won’t make it, but up to thirteen can clamber inside the pouch, where they’ll stay until they’re between seventy and one hundred and twenty-five days old. Baby Opossums are sooo cute that you could just eat them up. Literally. You could fit ten baby Opossums in a teaspoon. So they might not be the most adorable marsupial. In fact, they’re probably the least adorable marsupial, but remember that they were cute once!