Local Opossum Flaunts Her Baby Bump
Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana) are North America’s only marsupial. As a marsupial, they give live birth but shortly after carry their young in a pouch on their abdomens. Opossums are typically born between April and August and have the shortest gestation period of any mammal, lasting only about 12.5 days. At birth opossums are as small as honeybees, and are blind and hairless. Newborns will crawl from their mother’s birth canal up toward her pouch where they will attach to nipples by swallowing them rather than latching. Safely tucked into the pouch, the offspring will then continue to grow and develop over the next few months. Opossum offspring are referred to as “joeys” like their more famous distant marsupial cousins, the kangaroo.
Just recently, we observed a female opossum in front of one of the WCC’s wildlife cameras with a pouch clearly laden with babies. Her gait is slower than usual, and as she emerges from behind a rock you can see her underside is full and lumpy, likely filled with young still enjoying a cozy ride while they can.
Interestingly enough, this pouch is so secure and muscular that the mother opossum can actually go swimming in search of crayfish and other potential meals, and the offspring inside the completely submerged pouch will stay dry.
Since the time this video was taken, those joeys have likely emerged. Once they reach about 3 months of age, they are too large to fit into the pouch so they resort to clinging to mom’s back as she navigates around searching for food.
During the final weaning stage, the mother might begin to leave the joeys in a nest or denning area as she forages. For joeys born in the later part of the year, they often remain with their mothers for the next 3-4 months. Opossums reach sexual maturity and are themselves able to reproduce around six to eight months of age. Mothers and young will communicate through a series of clicking or barking sounds, and adult female opossums have even shown interest in the offspring of others by sniffing and licking them upon encountering them.
As weaning comes to a close, opossum joeys gain more and more independence and experience and eventually strike out on their own.
They truly are fascinating – and quite unique – animals!