Good News, Bad News

Young Opossum (Didelphis virginiana)

The good news is that there is a newly seen mammal in the park: an opossum. The bad news is that the individual I saw was probably dead. I say probably because of the well-known ability of this species to play dead. This mode is so convincing that the animal can be picked up, poked, or tossed around without responding. It may “come to” an hour or two later. I found it in the middle of a north-side gravel path often traveled by people with dogs. It did not appear to be injured. I found a forked stick and picked it up and tossed the pup gently into the grass. I hope that it was playing dead and will revive. However, the Wikipedia writers say that only the adults can play dead, the youngsters not. This was definitely a youngster. Opossum moms can have more than 20 babies, but have only 13 nipples for them to nurse on. Youth mortality is high. Only one out of ten pups survives to breeding age.

Opossums are nocturnal, so seeing the mom of this pup is going to be difficult. But sometimes they come out before sunset or after sunrise, and a diligent photographer who knows what to look for may get lucky. Now that we know they’re here, we have a chance to see them.

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