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Fun Facts and Tall Tales
Heloise the opossum pays another visit
I had not seen Heloise in three days and was getting a little worried. But then she showed up looking like she had swallowed a softball or had a large growth in her abdomen. It would have been alarming had I not done some research on the reproductive habits of opossums. As it turns out Heloise was pregnant, although strictly speaking that’s not quite accurate.
Opossums are marsupials you see, which means they carry their young in their pouches as they develop. I was less surprised by the pouch - since I already knew about kangaroos and koalas, both of which are marsupials - than I was by the folklore surrounding opossum reproduction. Here is my favorite tall tale.
“It was once believed that the male opossum mated through the female opossum’s nose. She then sneezed the young through her nose and into the pouch…One reason for this belief is the shape of the male opossum’s penis. It is bifurcated, like a two- pronged fork. It was believed that the shape of the penis was a perfect fit for the female opossum’s nose.”
This weird and wacky explanation says more about human imagination than it does about opossums. More fascinating details about how humans used to delude themselves can be found on the Opossum Society of the United States website: https://opossumsocietyus.org/general-opossum-information/opossum-reproduction-lifecycle/
But back to Heloise. She arrived, as I said, looking quite uncomfortable. Every once in awhile she would stop dead in her tracks, plant her feet wide apart, and lower her nose until it was touching the wooden floorboards of my deck. Quite frankly she looked miserable, but that may have been my interpretation. Clearly her attention was turned inward. Given what I know now, I’m not surprised.
When it came time to sleep, Heloise tried to crawl into the pumpkin. It has always been a tight fit but this time it was impossible. She got halfway in and got stuck. This caused her to panic. She tried backing out, and when that didn’t work shook the pumpkin from side to side (raising quite a ruckus in the process) until her head finally popped out. She immediately made a beeline for the porch railing where she goes to hide when she is alarmed.
As soon as she was out of sight, I got an old cat carrier out of my storage shed, put a clean towel inside it, and placed it as far from the offending pumpkin as I could. Then I retreated to my living room to see what she would do. When she hadn’t reappeared by 2:00 am I called it quits and went to bed.
The next morning I was delighted to see that Heloise was sound asleep in the cat carrier. But what was even more exciting was seeing that some of her babies (called joeys) had emerged from the pouch and were crawling around on top of her. They were SO cute! Little tiny pointy faces, pink noses, big ears and bright black eyes.
Heloise emerged from her deep sleep about 9:30 pm, took a long drink of water, and then disappeared again. All that could be seen of the babies were feet and tails dangling from her abdomen, which looked both uncomfortable and alarming. It was easy to see that they would soon be too big for the pouch. Heloise would have to start carrying them on her back, which was bound to slow her down. My mind tells me that Heloise will be fine - that it’s not my place to try to interfere with her life. My heart disagrees of course :-)
Just to get you hooked, I’m sharing a video by a wildlife rehaber who specializes in opossums. Enjoy.
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