Some have referred to opossums as the “Rodney Dangerfields of the animal kingdom — not getting any respect.” The fact that they look like a rat and have a prehensile tail like a monkey contributes to that attitude. Like all of God’s creatures, the opossum is incredibly well designed to live successfully in a wide variety of ecosystems.
Baby opossums, like baby kangaroos, are called joeys. Opossums have the shortest gestation period of any mammal — 12 days. Upon birth, the babies crawl through their mother's fur into a fur-lined pouch where they nurse for roughly 100 days. What is remarkable about the opossum is what it is immune to and how that is helpful to humans. Opossums are immune to the sting of honeybees, scorpions, and rattlesnakes. They even eat rattlesnakes. Recent studies have shown that opossums protect us from ticks. Opossums are fastidious in their grooming, scratching, licking, and chewing to remove any tick that is in their fur. Recent studies have shown that opossums may kill as many at 4,000 ticks a week, reducing the chance of Lyme disease being spread.
Opossums do better than rats, cats, rabbits, and dogs in intelligence tests. They are rarely aggressive and eat nearly anything. Because they originated in the tropics, they cannot stand cold for prolonged periods of time. That means they frequently invade human-occupied areas looking for warmth in winter. Most of us know that “playing possum” is a favorite survival skill opossums possess. When faced with a threat the opossum will keel over and look dead. They also defecate and exude a noxious, oily, green slime from their anal glands. This is not a conscious activity of the opossum, but happens involuntarily.
Recently scientists have found a peptide in opossum blood called Lethal Toxin Neutralizing Factor (LTNF). This peptide works by bonding to a toxic protein in the venom of a snake, scorpion, or even some toxic plants. Claire Komives, who has written on the amazing ability of the opossum, says the peptide works so well against all natural poisons that it is “like a miracle.” God's design of all life is a miracle, but the lowly opossum may be one of the most under-appreciated of all of God’s creatures. Sources: National Wildlife, April/May 2015, page 33, and The Week, April 10, 2015, page 17.
© Nicolas E Lowe. Image from BigStockPhoto.com.