Yesterday I was equal parts wildlife biologist and weirdo redneck, because I got out of the car and stood on the county road to look at a road-killed critter. And take photos. With my 3-year old daughter holding my hand.
“It looks like a great big mouse, Mama,” she told me as we stared at the inert form.
Wyokiddo and I were inspecting an opossum, which until this summer, I did not know lived in my home state of Wyoming. This was a Virginia opossum, the only marsupial found in the United States and Canada.
It did indeed look like a big cuddly, if dead, mouse. The poor animal had probably been following the ditch, hunting for food when it popped up on the road and got hit by a car.
Opossums aren’t common in Wyoming. We are on the fringe of their territory, but they are common in the eastern and southern half of the country. They can be found in Canada and Mexico, too. There are more than 60 different species of opossum.
The curly-haired wildlife lover next to me was fascinated by the opossum’s long sharp claws and the cross-hatching on it’s hairless tail. She stood there studying it for several minutes, proclaiming it’s fur looked soft and warm. It’s claws were long and sharp, she informed me, but not as long as those of the badger her Daddy caught this summer. She also thought the opossum’s teeth would probably hurt if it bit us. I thought those were pretty good observations for a preschooler!
When we got home, Wyokiddo insisted we look up photos of living possums. Thanks to our good friend Google, we found out that in addition to being long and sharp, the opossum’s teeth are a plenty. Each one has 50 teeth, more than any other North American land mammal. Their tails are prehensile and are used for grasping branches, balancing and carrying nesting material. Cartoons and drawings often show the opossum hanging from a tree by its tail, but this is apparently just a common misconception. But they do have opposable “thumbs” on their hind feet for holding onto branches.
I also learned they have two lateral vaginas with separate uteri, as do other female marsupials. Insert your own PMS jokes here.
I think it’s cool that we live in a place with a new-to-me species. Hopefully, one day Wyokiddo and I will have the chance to see one live on-the-claw, instead of dead on the road.