Jim Gilbert's Nature Notes: Amazing opossums

  • Article by: Jim Gilbert
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • December 12, 2013 - 2:36 PM

In the past 25 years, the opossum has expanded its range to the point where folks in central and even northwestern Minnesota can now turn on a yard light and catch one eating from a dog dish or bird feeder. Although opossums are quite common in the Twin Cities area and throughout southern Minnesota, they are almost entirely nocturnal. Therefore, they are seldom seen.

Adult opossums are the size of house cats, have short legs, are grayish-white and have long naked tails. The leaflike ears are thin and naked. Some people say that the opossum is not very intelligent. I disagree. It has succeeded as a species where other forms have become extinct. It has also followed the progress of civilization even into regions of severe winters, where it remains active throughout the year. So don’t be surprised to see one at your wildlife feeding station one of these cold evenings.

The opossum’s natural habitat is a wooded area along a stream, near a lake or in a swamp. Their range stretches from Minnesota to New York and as far south as central Mexico. And they will eat almost anything organic, including carrion, spoiled fruits, fresh fruits, eggs, nuts and insects.

Opossums are slow-moving, so if you or your dog decides to chase one, the creature will seek safety up a tree, in a brush pile or, if a retreat cannot be reached, it may play “possum” — that is, pretending to be dead.

Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.

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