Mammal on Board

April 22, 2008

As caretakers and general animal friends, we try to make sure our animals are happy as well as healthy. The majority of our collection travels to schools and are viewed and touched by thousands of kids annually. This can cause a lot of stress on animals, especially those new to our program. To acclimate these animals, we often spend time (in and out of the Museum) handling them.


Fashion faux pas,
but I work underground

It is not unheard of for an exotic animal to be wrapped around our wrists, snuggled under our collars, or just hanging out in a pocket as we walk around the Museum. Sometimes we have to be careful – while we do want the animals to get used to being handled and touched, we also do not want to frighten the general public. A snake is a snake, but people react very differently – and in some cases, quite vocally.

One of our newest additions is a Short-tailed Opossum. To get her used to our smell (so she sees us as a friend, not foe), I have been carrying her around in a small pouch. Very unobtrusive as you can see in the photo at right – though it is an odd fashion accessory.

Once word got out to staff about this new darling, several tracked me down to see how she was getting along. The next picture is her answer to their question. While she seems to feel secure inside the pouch (so much so I often have difficulty getting her out) she takes intrusion very seriously. A typical opossum reaction, and yet friends find her adorable. She is what we like to call “spunky.”


Who dares intrude
upon my solitude?!


Opossum extraction during quality time

I have also been transporting her home with me (much to my dog’s dismay – “what, another mammal?!”) and spending quality time in the bathtub. As escape artists go, STOs are some of the best, but the bathtub is fairly escape-proof.

That’s not to say she hasn’t surprised me. She once used the drain chain to climb up to the edge – opposable digits are awesome!

Here is a picture of me (left) during quality time (composing my blog no less). I’ve just removed her from a new hiding place – up my pant leg. (It tickles!) Thankfully, it’s the leg bent at the knee – otherwise I’m sure the little critter would have hiked up further. One of her favorite raceways is up and down my head.

After some free-range time, it is more pouch training complete with treats and then she’s raring to go for a full night of fun. Me, on the other hand – I’m off to bed.

Authored By Christine Battan

Christine manages the live animal collection, teaches weekday dissection labs and summer camp classes, and presents Wildlife on Wheels programs. It has been said that she is "usually carrying something interesting."

4 responses to “Mammal on Board”

  1. Carmen says:

    I want one of your opposums. The ones up here in Iowa bite.

  2. Laura Voss says:

    Very nice write-up — this makes possums seem cute! What is their normal life span – minus the dog’s interaction?
    Proud of you!

  3. Mike says:

    I was glad to see you put the plug in the tub so the little opposum wouldn’t fall down the drain and end up in Cuba. Very nice blog. I had a couple other comments, but they are not appropriate for public viewing. They are funny, however.

  4. Christine says:

    Thank you! Information for Short-tailed Opossums varies from source to source. The average life span ranges from 3-7 years in captivity. A big range to be sure, but most would agree that 4-5 years is a long-lived opossum. Considering that our large native Opossum, Didelphis virginiana, has an average life span of 2 years and is significantly larger, even 4 years would be way old. I assume if you add any predators into the mix, the average life span would decrease dramatically. I am fortunate enough that my dog is fairly bored with all of the little critters I bring home and very well behaved!

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