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By Jen Mannas, Naturalist

Along with all of the baby birds, here at PAWS we have an array of baby mammals in our care; among them are Virginia opossums.

Most of the baby opossums, or joeys, brought to the Wildlife Center are orphaned as a result of their mothers being hit by cars. Opossums are very primitive mammals that have been around since the time of the dinosaurs and have changed little since then. They are very slow to react to headlights, other animals and even people, because their primitive brains process information very slowly.

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When we see opossums we may not immediately think about how unique they are or their ecological importance. They are the only marsupial in the United States and they have a long prehensile tail used for climbing trees and hanging upside down, although they do not sleep in that position.

They have 50 teeth, the most of any land mammal in North America, which they use to eat just about anything from seeds to meat - making them good seed dispersers, great at insect and rodent control, as well as keeping the roadways and sidewalks clean.

They have several anti-predator tactics and, although playing opossum helps them fend off some predators, they also have a super power against snakes. They are partially or totally immune to snake venom and will even kill them for food. They rarely become sick with rabies or other wildlife diseases and, even though they have a small brain, they have a very good memory and a very sensitive nose; enabling them to find and remember where food is.

Since females give birth to such a large number of babies at one time the litters brought to PAWS can be as many as 13 babies. This requires a lot of dedication and care from our staff and volunteers to raise them and release them back into the wild.

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