National Geographic : 1953 Mar
417 Nobody Plays Possum Better than an Opossum cnarles rniiip rox August 14. One of the litter, nearly full-grown at three and a half months, demonstrates with barely a twitch that he is ready to meet life's dangers by practicing a time-honored trick of his kind. Slumped on his side, body curved and mouth open, he feigns death in hope that the human hand will leave him alone. Nothing disturbs his shocklike trance. Final picture of the remarkable series by Charles Philip Fox. worse, she may have a family in her pouch and one at her heels. One wonders why, when her children keep her so busy, she mates so frequently and with such inconstancy. Carefree Mr. Possum goes his way, but Mrs. Possum carries her respon sibility with her. Most other animal children are left at the mercy of hunters and birds and beasts of prey while their mothers are out foraging, but opossum babies are snug and warm and safe. Mouse-size Babies Ride Mother's Back When the babies are about the size of full grown mice, they begin to crowd the pouch and leave their upside-down home. At this time they pull themselves up on their mother's back and see the world from this vantage point (pages 414 and 415). In all our observation we haven't been for tunate enough to see opossum babies being carried in this manner. We have placed them along their mother's back and taken photo graphs, but it was our idea, not Mrs. Possum's. Each day these youngsters gain in strength; each day they become less timid. When their legs are strong enough to hold up their fat little bodies, they wobble to the ground and toddle along ahead of, behind, or beside their mother. They don't play as other young animals do, but are even-tempered and docile. At one time we had a particularly good opportunity to get acquainted with a possum family. A friend of ours found an opossum under his house and brought her to us. Her pouch was filled with babies almost at the weaning stage. We put her in our "hospital," a screened porch which we keep equipped for the care of sick or injured animals, so that we could take close-up photographs. The mother was most cooperative. Some times she hissed; sometimes she made a blow ing or snorting sound. Once she grunted. But she allowed us to handle the children, and they curled in our hands, spat a little, and settled down to their poker-face attitude. Though they were almost silent and always agreeable, how they smelled! We had no desire to keep them for pets; our feeding table was close enough, after our camera work. At three months the youngsters are weaned. They have now learned to eat solid foods insects, beetles, roots, and other goodies rich in possum calories. When well into the year ling stage their eyes seem to stand right on top of their ugly little faces. Their wind blown ears and long snouts, usually dripping, make them look like the patriarchs from which they have descended.