Early Sunday morning as I left the house I saw a mammal trot across the street and head up the hillside at the end of the block.
What was that? It looked like a small pig with a long tail.
A prehensile tail, to be exact. It was a Virginia opossum and it appeared to be pregnant, “Virginia” and “pregnant” being two inaccurate words to describe it.
Virginia opossums were named by Europeans arriving on the East Coast. In reality, opossums range east of the Rockies from Central America to Canada. People also introduced opossums on the West Coast (what were they thinking!?!). So “Virginia” is a misnomer, though not as bad as the “Tennessee” warbler who spends about six days a year in Tennessee.
Opossums are Pennsylvania’s only marsupial so “looking pregnant” is also inaccurate. Possum babies are the size of honeybees when, at 13 days gestation, they crawl on their own from their mother’s womb to her pouch. There they latch onto her 13 nipples (not just an odd number … 13!) and grow for two months before they emerge again. So a possum is not pregnant when she looks pregnant. That bulge is her pouch.
Why have ‘possums come to the city? Because they eat anything and we have lots of it. In the country they often eat roadkill, become roadkill themselves, and thus food for vultures.
Vultures and opossums! The city’s gone wild.
(photo by Chuck Tague)