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Female Opossum With Babies on Her Back

female opossum

04.16.2006 - This is one of the things that opossums are well-known for. A group of baby opossums clinging to the back of the mother opossum. This kind of thing is common at this time of year, mid-April, because the female possums have their young in the late winter and early spring, and by this point, the young are grown to a size large enough to spend most of their time outside of the pouch and clinging directly to the back of their mother. It's actually an interesting game of survival. The female opossum has 13 nipples. So at the very beginning, there's competition to get a nipple. Babies are born, usually more than 13 of them, at a very tiny size, like a kidney bean. They find a nipple and stay put, but those that don't find a nipple die. Then they grow, and they crowd each other. There's less and less space to hang on as the young grow larger, so some of them get shoved off, and have to fend for themselves. Many of these little possums are very small and not yet ready, and they will likely not survive, as they fall prey to predators.

In this photo, there's eight young (though you can't see them all from this angle).  It's very crowded on this mama possum's back!  Soon more and more young will drop off, until there's only three or four left in mid August, and then it's time for these last few to leave their mom.  The ones that have stayed on for the longest amount of time and grown the largest stand the best chance of survival.

The opossum, (Didelphis virginiana) is a nocturnal animal that lives in North America. It is a marsupial, which means that the females give birth to tiny young, who grow in a pouch. These young eventually cling to the mother's back and drop off when they are large enough. Opossums are unique for many reasons. They have opposable thumbs, prehensile tails, 50 teeth, and several other unusual features. They are omnivores who eat almost anything, they have excellent immune systems, and they rarely live more than 2-3 years in the wild. They are most commonly considered a nuisance species when they live in an attic or other structure, such as under a shed, or steal pet food or threaten animals.

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