Journal: Opossum's range is growning

  • Article by: JIM GILBERT
  • Updated: November 11, 2011 - 1:08 AM
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An opossum in the rotunda at the State Capitol.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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Opossums are slow-moving, so it will seek safety up a tree, in a brush pile, or if a retreat cannot be reached, it may play "possum," that is, pretend death. They are relatively harmless to people, but do treat them with respect, as they have more teeth than any other mammal found in Minnesota.

During the last 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 feasting on sunflower seeds from a bird feeder. Opossums are quite common in the Twin Cities area and throughout southern Minnesota. They are almost entirely nocturnal.

Adult opossums are the size of house cats, have short legs, are grayish-white in color and have long naked tails. The leaf-like ears are thin and naked. Some people may say that the opossum is not very intelligent, but 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.

The opossum is North America's only marsupial. It has a prehensile tail, which makes it easy to climb, and the female carries the young in a pouch on her abdomen like a kangaroo.

The natural habitat for the opossum is a wooded area along a stream, near a lake, or in a swamp. It can live in a hole in a tree, a deserted den of another mammal, or a brush pile. A true opportunist among wild mammals, the opossum might use almost any shelter in which it can be dry and safe from enemies -- even under or in an old building. By the same token, it will eat almost anything organic, including carrion, spoiled fruits, fresh fruits, eggs, nuts and insects.

JIM GILBERT

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