Do possums cave by your tails?

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Origins: Opossums are misunderstood creatures, frequently mistaken because that members the the rodent family because of their lengthy rat-like tails. Opossums

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are actually North America’s just marsupial, a class of mammal the carries its child in an ab pouch. (The phibìc American opossum need to not be puzzled with the Australian possum, i m sorry is a related yet distinctly different animal.) after ~ the an initial 60 days, the babies arise to take it their locations on Mama’s back to be more ferried around for one additional couple of months. Opossums, one might say, carry both motherhood and also their offspring to extremes.)

Captain man Smith (of Pocahontas fame) is attributed with bestowing the ‘opossum’ take care of on the critter from the Algonquin Indian name ‘apasum,’ which method ‘white face.’ Smith explained the pet as having actually “a head favor a swine and a tail like a rat,” a rather accurate, if unflattering, portrait.

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The opossum is at house in trees. It supplies its prehensile tail to help stabilize position as soon as climbing, much the same way as a mouse will usage its tail to preserve balance when it climbs a wheat stalk to nosh top top the grain. Opossums perform not cave by your tails, though. A baby opossum might be able to manage this feat because that a second or two, but weight and also body dimension in proportion come tail strength preeminence out the possibility of an adult opossum’s pulling it off.

A popular list of “true facts” widely circulated ~ above the internet asserts the following:


When opossums are playing possum, they space not “playing.” They actually pass the end from slim terror.

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As naturalist Warner Shedd writes, this programmed defensive an answer is not “playing” in the sense that it’s not an intentional plot of deception:


When a possum is threatened, it’s likely to first show its teeth and also hiss virtually like an upset cat. If that fails to surprised the would-be predator, the possum might run away or rise a tree. As a critical resort, however, the creature falls into a sort of catatonic state, body limp and eyes broad open. This is not a mindful act of pretending, however is really a genetically programmed reflex action. Sometimes the defensive adaptation works, and also a predator loses attention in a victim that shows up to be dead. Also after the danger is gone, though, the possum may remain in the comatose state because that hours!

However, the not rather right come say opossums “pass out from thin terror”; they absence the intellect essential to register are afraid to the level and also formulate a reaction come it. It’s every instinctive response, v the chain of events predetermined by the proximity that the threat and the predator’s failure to it is in taken in by earlier ruses in the sequence. Once teeth-baring and hissing do not dissuade the attacker, and also running increase a tree is not a viable option, instinct kicks in, inducing

a comatose state in the opossum that provides it look prefer it has been frightened into cardiac arrest. If a predator move closer, the opossum will periodically emit a foul-smelling fluid, hoping to change its investigator’s mind. While the predator is make the efforts to figure out what this strange-acting animal is, the opossum will sometimes suddenly “come come life” and scurry off.

Opossums have actually a couple of other defensive bluffs at their disposal. They’ll speed their abundant teeth (50 in all) when cornered or scared and earlier the implied hazard with a horrific-sounding hiss. (Those who have had actually occasion to complimentary opossums that had ended up being trapped once they fell into trash can be ~ or various other tall containers can vouch for the efficiency of the hissing, teeth-baring defensive techniques.) reality is, these critters are exceptionally gentle and also will not assault a human being unless that other is fool enough to shot to choose one up.

Opossums space unintelligent creatures (they eat cockroaches by choice — ’nuff said), but are innocuous and harmless practically to a fault. They carry fewer conditions than the average family pet, and have a greater resistance come rabies than any type of other wild or domestic animal living around you. Lock are additionally immune to the venom of many pit vipers (rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths, and the like). Researchers are studying the opossum’s ability to neutralize venom, as well as its resistance to rabies, in wishes of learning exactly how to boost the immune system in humans. Meanwhile, opossums go around dining on venomous snakes as if this to be the many ordinary of activities.

One curious fact about the lowly opossum: It has opposable thumbs top top its rear feet, which role like hands for grasping. One of the biggest adaptations in the pet kingdom is opposable thumbs, a attribute humans share just with various other primates and opossums.