Mother’s Day is a special time to celebrate motherhood and maternal bonds in their many forms. This year, the Wildlife Center of Virginia is recognizing one matriarch in particular – a hard-working, dedicated mother of eight: Virginia opossum #23-0695.
On the evening of April 18, a homeowner heard noises in the woods outside of their house, and they discovered this injured mother opossum with her babies. The opossum family was admitted to the hospital the next day; while each of the babies (all given case numbers) was healthy, the veterinary team found multiple puncture wounds over the mother opossum's shoulders, abdomen, and pelvis. Radiographs confirmed a left scapula fracture. This little momma opossum has continued raising her babies for the past couple of weeks as the veterinary team carefully treated her injuries. At this point, the opossum family is ready to move outside and is one step closer to returning to the wild.
Wild Virginia opossums are great mothers who care for their young throughout several distinct stages of growth and development. After reaching maturity at about one and a half years of age, adult Virginia opossums may breed two or three times each year, from February through September. The average litter contains six to nine babies, called “joeys.” As marsupials, newly born opossums – tiny, hairless, eyes closed, and about the size of a honeybee -- climb into their mother’s pouch just after birth and remain there for about two months. A fantastic view of this pouch and newborn joeys is in the video below, which features former opossum education ambassador Delphine during her intake exam as a patient:
Between two and four months of age, they are ready to leave mom’s pouch, but still depend on her for help in finding food, shelter, and safety. During this stage, they may ride on their mother's back -- an uncommon behavior compared to other native wildlife in North America!
After the joeys reach a certain size (around 8 inches in length, from the tip of their nose to the base of their tail) and weight (about 200 g), they are typically ready for life on their own.
How to Help Opossum Moms This Spring
- Slow down while driving and watch for wildlife crossing roads during twilight hours and at night. Never leave litter -- including "safe" litter like apple cores or banana peels --behind near roadways. As scavengers, Virginia opossums are often hit by moving vehicles while searching for food.
- Know when baby opossums truly are in need of rescue. Each year, many young wild animals that arrive at the Center are not in need of “help” from humans at all! Click here to learn more about how to assess if an opossum joey is truly in need of help.
- Sponsor one of the Center's non-releasable Virginia Opossum education ambassadors through our Caring for Critters program. Your Caring for Critters donation helps provide food, shelter, and medical care for the sponsored animal. It also supports the Center’s educational outreach programs and helps provide state-of-the-art emergency care to thousands of animals admitted to the Wildlife Center each year.
Happy Mother's Day!