Rescued Baby Opossums

The rescued opossums at WildCare. Photo by Kate Lynch
These are Claire’s rescued babies after one day at WildCare. Photo by Kate Lynch

Thirteen year old Claire was walking to school when she noticed an opossum lying on the side of the road.

Being an animal lover, Claire went over to investigate. To her surprise, there was more than one opossum on the roadside that morning— the larger one she had already spotted, and a tiny baby opossum, cowering in the weeds.

In fact, this was an entire opossum family in distress! In addition to the one baby, Claire could see the mother’s marsupium, or pouch, bulging, indicating the presence of other babies… babies that might still be alive!

Claire ran back to her house to get help. She and her mom called WildCare’s 24-Hour Hotline (415-456-SAVE (7283)) and operator Vanessa walked them through gently removing the baby opossums from the pouch and keeping any survivors warm and quiet until they could get to WildCare. Claire rescued a total of six tiny babies from the pouch of their dead mother, and brought them quickly to the Wildlife Hospital.

Story continues below…

Orphaned baby opossum at WildCare. Photo by Alison HermanceHelp us feed our baby opossums!

WildCare treats 100 – 200 opossums every year, and we start admitting orphaned babies like these as early as February!

An adult opossum averages a two-week stay in the Wildlife Hospital, but orphaned babies will be in care for a month or more. As all of these babies wean, they will need proper nutrition to grow up strong and healthy enough to be released.

The approximate cost per day to feed a growing opossum is $3.50 per meal per opossum.

Donate today to help us provide proper nutrition for our opossums and all our wildlife patients!

It really is astonishing how often a mother opossum will die in an impact with a car, but her babies will survive the accident.

Opossum mother and babies at WildCare. Photo by Kate Lynch
This mother opossum survived being hit by a car and recovered at WildCare in 2014. Photo by Kate Lynch

The Virginia Opossum is the only native marsupial to North America. Like their Australian cousins, Virginia Opossums’ babies leave the womb at a remarkably undeveloped age— they are barely the size of a raisin. Pink, hairless and with only vestigial back limbs, the babies use their forelimbs to climb up their mother’s body into her marsupium where they latch onto any of her 13 nipples. The babies’ mouths fuse around the nipple, and it is in this pouch that they complete their development.

This process is unique to marsupials and, although it differs considerably from the development of placental mammals like us, it is nonetheless an effective strategy. The marsupium provides a very protective environment, even in the event of a catastrophic injury to the mother marsupial.

These baby opossums are proof of that! All six babies received a comprehensive examination upon their arrival at WildCare. The medical charts for these little ones note that all were cold and wet, but BAR (bright, alert and responsive) and none had any injuries.

Even with such a positive prognosis, however, these little opossums still needed help. Medical Staff quickly went into action to warm the tiny opossums, as hypothermia is a very real danger to young animals like these. Claire’s timely rescue had without a doubt saved their lives, and it only took a short time of wrapping them in heated towels to bring these babies’ body temperatures up to normal.

Yawning opossum. Photo by Alison Hermance
This young opossum thinks it’s too early to be up and about! Here she yawns before returning to her cozy den at WildCare. Photo by Alison Hermance

The babies immediately went into Foster Care with an opossum specialist where they were tube fed a special opossum formula. Although the babies lost a small amount of weight as they adjusted to their new diet and environment, it wasn’t long before these 70 gram babies were gaining weight.

In the wild at this age, these young opossums would be beginning to explore their world outside of mom’s pouch, so these babies’ Foster Care mom started introducing them to solid foods very quickly. A grape was a big hit, as were bits of fish and pieces of banana. Over the next weeks, these babies thrived, gaining weight and becoming healthy juvenile opossums.

Finally, after almost exactly a month and a half in care at WildCare, it was time for these young opossums to get their second chance at life in the wild. Without Claire and without WildCare, none of these young animals would have survived, so it was a heartwarming experience for Claire to be part of their release.

WildCare staff met Claire and her father at the release site. After scoping out the proper place to release the young opossums (a release site must have a water source and good cover, and be away from busy roads), Claire put on gloves and carefully opened the door of the opossums’ carrier. Like all opossums, these youngsters took their time investigating their new environment. With a little prodding, all four eventually made their way out of the carrier and into their new lives in the wild. The sight of two of the opossums already open-mouthed chomping on tasty bugs or worms helped reinforce that these opossums were ready for life on their own.

We wish them the best of luck in their new home!

 

This entry was posted in Wildlife Patient Stories and tagged , by Alison Hermance.

10 Responses to “Rescued Baby Opossums”

  1. Graciela Downey

    I love opossums, please let me know where I can send you a check for their support. O do not like to use my credit card on line. Please send me an address to send by mail thanks. Congratulations on your wonderful labor of love

    Reply
    • Alison Hermance

      Thanks Graciela! Aren’t opossums wonderful?
      WildCare’s mailing address is 76 Albert Park Lane San Rafael, CA 94901. Thank you so much for your support!

      Reply
  2. Janet Takashiro

    A mother opossum was hit by a car (I can’t remember how many months ago) and I made a donation for her care and babies. I’m wondering if this was the same one since I thought the mother was found alive but could possibly have vision problems. I loved your update. We had our Xmas party yesterday at Fort Mason, and I made another donation to Wildcare. One of there days (when it’s warmer) I’d like my family and I to visit your organization.

    Thank you for everything that you do!
    Janet

    Reply
    • Alison Hermance

      Hi Janet, That was actually a different opossum– you can see how often mother opossums with pups get hit by cars, which is why WildCare always recommends checking any opossum lying on the side of the road for little ones. That mama opossum and her pups survived their accident and the pups grew up in their mother’s care at WildCare. She, however, had permanent vision problems from the accident, and would not be able to survive in the wild. Because of that, we have kept her here at WildCare as a Wildlife Ambassador, and she has been doing regular programs in classrooms all over the Bay Area, teaching kids to appreciate the wonderful Virginia Opossum! Please do bring your family to WildCare (we’re open every day from 9am – 5pm with slightly abbreviated hours on the holidays) and you can meet Mama Opossum in her enclosure in our Courtyard!

      Reply
  3. Kdm

    What a wonderful outcome! Thanks to Claire and Wildcare for all the tireless efforts for these little beauties! We are Wilcare supporters and love to see all the care and support given to the wild creatures of our area. It is always so heartwarming to see so many people caring for creatures in need. Thank you all!

    Reply
  4. teegee

    Wonderful story, I am a big fan of these creatures. Sad to think, but did two of them not make it? Without a mother to teach them, are they going to be able to find food and create shelter? I hope they survive and live a long and healthy life!

    Reply
    • Alison Hermance

      Thanks teegee! Actually all six babies made it, although the video only shows four of them being released. The other two, although they were the same age, developed faster and grew up with another group of orphans at WildCare of similar size. That group was released at another location the evening before these opossums were released.
      All of these babies should be just fine in the wild. At this age and size they would be dispersing naturally and be on their own anyway. They’ll use their well-developed sense of smell and excellent hearing to find food and water and, with a little luck, they’ll thrive!

      Reply
  5. Jan and Larry Petri Haines

    We are supporters of Wildcare (and opossums!) and really enjoy these videos and updates.

    Reply
  6. Shelley

    Thank goodness Claire found them! I didn’t realize that was her releasing them until after I watched the video. I think that was great that did the honors.

    Reply
  7. Kristina Brown

    I want to say a very heartfelt thank you to Clare. She took time to stop and care for these orphaned babies, and with help, she was able to save them. At just 13 years old, this took great compassion and resourcefulness. It gives me hope that the upcoming generation will continue to care for wildlife and the environment. Thanks, Clare and thanks to all who work at Wildcare….Bless you all!

    Reply

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