Orphaned Opossums at WildCare

Orphaned Opossums at WildCare

These baby Virginia Opossums came to WildCare after a very traumatic experience: their mother wandered too close to a road, and was killed by a car. 

Astonishingly, although not all of her babies survived, these four baby opossums managed to live through the collision that killed their mother! 

The marsupium, or pouch, seems like an odd adaptation to us placental mammals, but it actually provides significant protection for the growing babies inside.

As long as it is safe for you to do so, any time you see an opossum that has been hit by a car, stop and check if it is a nursing mother. If there are baby opossums in the pouch, don't try to pull them out. Instead, wrap the entire family in a towel and bring them to WildCare or your closest wildlife care center.

Opossums are born and exit the birth canal at only 11 - 13 days old, making their way into their mother's marsupium, where each of up to 13 babies latches onto a nipple. The babies swallow the nipple, essentially fusing their mouth around it, until they are old enough to let go and start moving around the pouch, and eventually outside of it.

Because the baby opossum is so firmly attached to the nipple (which actually reaches the stomach), removing baby opossums from their mother's pouch must be done with great care and delicacy, and should be only be done in the Wildlife Hospital.

The rescuer of these young opossums was actually one of WildCare's wonderful volunteers, returning home after his shift at the Wildlife Hospital!

Fortunately, he knew to check for babies when he spotted the body of the hit-by-car opossum on the side of the road near his house. Finding these babies, he immediately turned around and brought them back to WildCare.

He later checked his outdoor camera to see if he could tell when the accident happened, and sent a note to his neighbors on Nextdoor to remind them to slow down and watch for crossing animals, especially now when any animal killed on the road could be a nursing mother with babies in her nest, den, or marsupium.

The camera showed that the mother opossum had been hit at 11:22pm the night before (unfortunately, no one had spotted her on the side of the road earlier.) These little opossums had been on the side of the road for 15 hours before they were rescued, so in addition to potential injuries from the accident that killed their mother, they were also at risk for hypothermia and septicemia.

Medical Staff gently removed the baby opossums from the pouch and warmed them. Once their body temperature had been raised, they were given subcutaneous fluids to rehydrate them after their ordeal, and an oral dextrose solution to counteract hypoglycemia.

As of this email, the surviving babies are doing well in the care of one of WildCare's opossum specialists. As described above, opossums this young would normally still be attached to the nipple that they swallowed when they first reached the marsupium. This attachment means they don't have a suckling reflex like other very young baby mammals do, so they must be tube-fed the specialized opossum formula they need, approximately every three hours around the clock, until they are old enough to eat solid foods.

It's this incredibly dedicated care that that will help them grow up to be fluffy juveniles, and eventually healthy and releasable adult opossums.

Meet these tiny opossums in the VIDEO below, taken at feeding time by their Foster Care parent. The "ch ch ch" calls are the sounds baby opossums make to attract their mother's attention.