Earlier this summer, the Zoo welcomed Basil, a Virginia opossum (also known as a North American opossum) to the Small Mammal House. Get to know Basil and learn more about one of North America's most unique animals in this New at the Zoo!
What are opossums? Are they rodents?
Virginia opossums are not rodents, they are actually North America’s only marsupial! Like other marsupials (such as wallabies and kangaroos), female opossums carry their young in a pouch. A female opossum can have up to 25 offspring in one litter! The young are altricial (meaning helpless at birth) and are about the size of a honeybee. They climb directly into their mother’s pouch after birth to nurse. Once they get too big for the pouch, they will climb onto mom’s back and ride there until they are fully grown.
When young opossums are frightened, they may enter a catatonic state, commonly known as “playing ‘possum.” Though most body functions will remain normal, the juvenile opossum will feign death by becoming motionless, laying down and drooling, and may stay this way minutes or hours! Adults react to threats by baring their teeth, hissing, screeching and standing their ground or by fleeing. Despite this, they are rarely a threat to people.
Who is Basil and how did he come to live at the Zoo?
Our opossum “Basil” came to us from the local wildlife rehabilitation center City Wildlife as a non-releasable animal. He was found injured from a predator attack and brought to City Wildlife, where their team treated his wounds and helped him heal. Young opossums are at large risk for predation by birds of prey, larger mammals and snakes. Pets like dogs are also a threat to opossums when not kept on a leash. Because he lost one of his eyes in the attack, City Wildlife recommended he come to the Zoo’s Small Mammal House as an ambassador for his species. It was unlikely Basil would survive long in the wild with limited eyesight. We’re excited to provide him with a new lease on life and give guests an opportunity to learn about his species!
How is Basil adjusting to the Zoo?
Basil is adjusting very well to his new home. He willingly interacts with keepers and seems to be exploring his exhibit overnight. He does spend most of his days sleeping because opossums are nocturnal. When we interact with him, we’ve learned that he is curious, mellow and very much enjoys being cozy! Basil especially loves his fleece blankets and finding a spot in his logs to get curled up – if you don’t see him right away, that’s the first place to look!