While recently visiting a TLC protect property located in Fort Worth, I had a wildlife encounter that allowed me to experience the animal rescue process for the first time. Since this time of year finds many of our Texas animals and their babies out and about, I thought I would share my firsthand experience and new-found knowledge.
While performing the annual monitoring visit of our James K. Allen Preserve, which is a protected area within the YCMA’s Camp Carter, the camp’s executive director and I came upon what we first thought was a dead mouse. We were originally surprised. Upon a closer look, we discovered that this small mammal was actually a baby opossum. As you can see from the photos, this was a very small baby. Before doing anything, we looked around to see if the mother was nearby. With no sign of the adult opossum in the trees or anywhere in sight, we examined the baby and did some gentle probing with a finger determining that it was still alive. There were already several ants biting the opossum, and we decided that if we did not intervene, the baby would soon be covered by ants or killed by another predator – either of which are a part of the balance of nature. However, we decided that since this baby was on camp property where hikers might come across it, we would make an effort to save the opossum. From my training as a North Texas Master Naturalist, I knew of the DFW Wildlife Hotline. I made the call to see what our next steps should be. The volunteer who took our phone call was incredibly helpful, asking questions to determine if this was a wild animal in need of rescuing and then instructing us on how to prepare and transport the opossum to a rehab facility. Thanks to the staff at the YMCA’s Camp Carter and the volunteers at DFW Wildlife Coalition, this baby opossum made it safely to a rehab center, where it will be taken care of until it is ready to return to the wild!
Check out the www.dfwwildlife.org to learn more about how this incredible organization is providing our community with resources on how to respond to wildlife in our urban environment.
More about this Texas critter: The Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) is the only marsupial found north of Mexico. It is typically referred to simply as a possum, and it is a solitary and nocturnal animal about the size of a domestic cat. Marsupials give live birth to very small young. After a gestation of just 12 to 13 days, female opossums give birth to up to 20 live young at a time. The babies are about the size of jellybeans when they are born. They cannot see but will scramble from their birthplace under their mother’s tail and wriggle across her hairy belly to the safety of her pouch. Most do not survive the journey, as the youngsters must find a nipple, and there are only 13 nipples. After about 60 to 70 days in the pouch, the youngsters’ eyes finally open. They have some control of their body temperatures, and they have grown to the size of a mouse, weighing about an ounce. At this time, they occasionally release their hold on the nipple. Soon they will venture out of the pouch. When they reach 75 to 85 days of age, they are weaned and seldom go back in the pouch. They will stay with their mother, often riding on her back, until they are about 3 to 4 months old. Opossums are passive and rarely cause problems for humans, but when they feel threatened, they look ferocious displaying all 50 teeth, drooling, and hissing. Opossums are excellent at rodent and insect control. Being carrion eaters, they also help keep roadways and neighborhoods clean.