Orphaned Opossums at WildCare
Although tube-feeding these baby opossums is a good way to get them the nutrition they need, getting
them to lap their formula on their own would be even better! Watch these babies’ Foster Care provider
introduce lapping by squirting the formula on her hand.
These very young opossums lost their mother when she was attacked and killed by a dog. It’s a fact that every tiny orphan at WildCare has a sad story about the loss of his or her mother. None of these patients would need our care if something hadn’t happened to Mom.
That any of these babies survived their mother’s fate is astonishing. Although we don’t have details about the attack by the dog, the fact that the baby opossums survived speaks to the safety provided by their mother opossum’s marsupium, or pouch. Several of the babies in the litter have minor injuries, but nothing significant. With the proper care in our Wildlife Hospital, all of these young opossums should grow up healthy, and be released back to the wild.
Seven is an average size for a litter of opossums, although a mother opossum may have as many as 13 babies. Being marsupials, baby opossums leave their mother’s uterus at a surprisingly underdeveloped stage. Each baby is pink and hairless, and barely bigger than a raisin. Baby opossums have strong front limbs that allow them to crawl up the mother’s body into her marsupium, but very undeveloped lower extremities. The neonate opossums attach themselves to individual nipples and complete their development in the close confines of the pouch.
Because the babies’ mouths fuse around the nipple and they remain attached to it until about two months of age, baby opossums at this stage of development don’t have the suckling reflex that other baby mammals do. This means they must be tube-fed formula until they can learn to lap it out of a bowl. Watch in the video below as WildCare’s Mary Pounder tube-feeds one of the seven opossums in her care.
These young opossums will remain in care for at least two more months. They will master lapping formula very soon, and eventually they will be introduced to a wide variety of foods. Opossums are part of nature’s “clean up crew,” because they will eat almost anything. These unusual animals (the Virginia Opossum is North America’s only native marsupial!) are scavengers with an excellent sense of smell and a penchant for fallen fruit and carrion. Opossums are also handy for the garden– they love to eat slugs and snails, in addition to small rodents.
WildCare’s Wildlife Ambassador opossum, Momma, came to WildCare as a patient after being hit by a car. She arrived at the Wildlife Hospital with head trauma from the accident… and a marsupium full of babies!
Unfortunately veterinary examinations determined that Momma’s head trauma had rendered her unable to see, which meant she couldn’t return to the wild, but she was able to raise her family in one of our enclosures. Once they were old enough, we released them back to the wild.
Momma lives full time at WildCare and helps us teach visitors and school children what wonderful animals Virginia Opossums are!
Visit her in WildCare’s Courtyard (click for hours and directions).