Life isn’t always just a bowl of cherries…sometimes it can be tragic. Our ER room is full of life and death but sometimes there are other new lives at stake as well. We have to choose who can live. In this case, it was a mama opossum that presented as basically brain dead but had a pouch full of babies. She was young and we were sad. We realized at intake that we could not save her, but discovered that her babies weighed over two ounces. This meant we could raise them and that is what our volunteers, interns, and staff did. Where were her babies? In her pouch! Yes, we really do have a pouched mammal in America.
What you may not know about our only North American marsupial (think kangaroo here) is that these unique animals, like their cousins in Australia, give birth to embryos, not neonates (full-term babies), at 11-13 days. After they’re born, the embryos attach to one of 13 nipples that dispense milk minute by minute. They never suckle (nurse) or take milk on their own. Instead, they swallow a teat and milk comes to them. Their mouth has only a tiny hole in it to take the teat. If it is too small (at a body weight of a little under two ounces) they cannot be successfully tube fed because we don’t have a tube that narrow. To give you a frame of reference, the embryos are about the size of a dime when born. Being older and bigger, these guys were successfully reared and were just four of 74 embryonic or neonatal first year opossums that were successfully released this year.