Didelphimorphia – Opossums

Native to the Americas, they defy myths, poor optics, and smelly ordeals

Opossums, the only marsupials found north of Mexico, are an intriguing order of animals with a unique set of behaviors and adaptations that allow them to survive in a variety of environments, from dense forests to urban settings. Their distinctive long snouts are not just for show; they house an impressive number of teeth—up to 50, more than any other North American land mammal. This dental arsenal equips them well for a diet that includes fruits, insects, small rodents, and even carrion.

The behavior of playing dead, or “playing possum,” is an involuntary response to threats. It’s a remarkable survival strategy that can deter many predators who prefer live prey. This act is so convincing that an opossum will exude a foul odor from its anal glands, mimicking the smell of decay. Its body will become stiff, and its eyes will either close or stare blankly into space, enhancing the ruse. This charade can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, depending on the perceived threat.

While their act of playing dead might suggest otherwise, opossums are indeed very particular about their cleanliness. Much like cats, they spend a considerable amount of time grooming themselves with their paws and tongues. This meticulous behavior helps them stay clean and free of parasites such as ticks, which can carry diseases. It’s fascinating to note that opossums have a lower body temperature than other mammals, which is believed to be one of the reasons why they are less susceptible to rabies.

These nocturnal creatures are also remarkable for their immunity to venom from snakes such as rattlesnakes and cottonmouths, making them resilient survivors in their habitat. Opossums possess a protein that can neutralize snake venom, allowing them to prey upon these reptiles without the risk of succumbing to their venomous defenses.