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Opossums

The opossum is a mammal that is abundant in WestVirginia and in the Laurel Lake area. This mammal can growto a weight between 4 and 15 pounds and to a length exceeding2 feet.

The opossum was present during the age of dinosaurs. Fossilshave been found dating back 70 million years. This makes theopossum part of the oldest surviving family of mammals.

The opossum prefers a habitat that is heavily wooded with astream nearby. Opossums are slow-moving creatures with verysensitive smell and hearing. These mammals are nocturnal and transient. They have been known to travel as far as 2 milesin one night.

Opossums are exceptionally good climbers. This can be attributedto the fact that opossums have soft, rounded, thumbs on theirhind feet.

The diet of the opossum includes dead animals, insects, frogs, earthworms, birds and their eggs, snails, and plants. Opossumsare omnivorous.

After only 13 days of pregnancy, the incompletely developedyoung opossums are born. At birth, opossums are less than .5 inch in length and weigh less than a dime. With their tiny claws,the young opossums climb into a pouch in their mother's abdomen.Those that find a nipple in the pouch remain firmly attached toit and get nourishment. These offspring remain in the pouch forapproximately 60 days. The baby opossums are born in groups of5 to 20.

The aspect of a pouch for its young make opossums fall into the classification of marsupials. The opossum is the onlymarsupial native to North America. The variety of opossum foundin the Laurel Lake area is the Common Opossum.

Opossums carry their mature young on the mother's back. When threatened, the opossum will live still and resemble a dead animal.

Opossums are more intelligent than dogs. Although intelligent,natural preditors and automobiles have greatly limited thelife span of the opossum. Very few opossums survive to adulthood.Those that reach adulthood seldom live beyond 2 years.

Opossums cannot jump. They are extremely resistant to diseasesincluding rabies. This results from the fact that opossumshave a lower body temperature than most mammals.