Most people would probably run the other way if they heard a strange noise coming from a dumpster. But we are so grateful to a caring member of the public who looked inside and discovered five baby opossums still alive inside the pouch of their dead mother, who had been hit by a car.
Opossums (Didelphis virginiana) are native to New York and are America’s only marsupial, raising their young in a perfectly designed pouch: it is warm and so well protected that even if the mother dies, the babies may not be harmed.
But once they are removed from their pouch they are very vulnerable. Baby opossums have almost a non-existent immune system, and can catch infections very easily. Our rehabilitators must sterilize every piece of equipment between each feeding, and they never handle the babies without gloves.
Also baby opossums, unlike baby squirrels, must be fed very carefully by tube, to simulate the mother’s nipple, which remains inside their throat and attached for more than two months of their lives.
As they got bigger, they began to explore their world by grasping and climbing anything they could find with their Velcro-like paws and rear opposable thumbs, although not by their tails, which is a myth. “I know that they eventually grow in 50 teeth, more than any mammal,” said a Wild Bird Fund rehabilitator, “but as babies they’re more like part monkey and part mouse.”
Our five babies flourished under the care of the Wild Bird Fund, reaching their full weight and growing in beautiful gray-white fur. They were successfully released into a rural area of Pennsylvania.