One of the most fascinating creatures found within the Cowling Arboretum (as well as a multitude of other places across North America) is the opossum (the “o” is silent).
To begin with, opossums are marsupials, which is already pretty awesome. On top of that, an opossum’s gestation period is twelve days. Twelve days! Newborn opossums are essentially embryos, only developed enough to climb to their mother’s pouch and attach to a teat, which then swells to fit the newborn’s mouth. Here the infant will stay for two and a half months, until it develops enough to leave the pouch. By five months of age, the opossum will be ready to survive on its own, prehensile tail and all.
When confronted with a dangerous predator, opossums respond with one of the most unique performances in the animal kingdom. Although opossums have little in the way of active defenses, they do have 50 teeth (among the most in the mammal world) and they tend to bare their daunting dentures in an effort to deter a would-be assailant. If their intimidation tactics fail, they then turn to the quintessential opossum performance: feigned death (playing opossum).
However, merely being dead is not enough to deter all predators, so opossums have other measures to make themselves as disgusting and unappetizing as possible. While they are playing dead—an involuntary action which involves falling unconscious—their lips draw back to bare their numerous teeth and they foam at the mouth. They will also secrete a foul-smelling green substance from their anal glands (I don’t know about all predators, but this would be enough to deter me).
If its idiosyncratic approach to self-defense succeeds, a opossum may remain unconscious for up to four hours. Although these theatrics may seem absurd, they have enabled opossums to survive as some of the oldest marsupials on earth.