Keeper Stories – Thursday, January 12
Love is in the air! Yep, even in the winter. Male opossums go through physiological changes during the winter months that we call rut. As hormones surge through their bodies, their minds are focused on one thing, and only one thing. They lose interest in food and spend hours simply wandering around, noses in the air, and vocalizing in the hopes of catching a whiff, and the attention, of a lovely lady opossum. At Wieland Wildlife Home we have one male opossum, George, and two female opossums, Maple and Magnolia. They have lived next to one another for some time, but George has not had the opportunity to meet these girls…yet.
Yesterday we did something we like to call a “howdy.” This is when two animals can meet with a physical barrier between them for safety. During a howdy they can smell each other and see each other. They can even touch one and other through the mesh if they want to. Once George caught sight of the ladies, he immediately began moving toward them, vocalizing and sniffing the air like crazy. If you wonder what a male opossum in rut sounds like, he sounds like a female opossum who is looking to grab the attention of her babies. Both sound like a human making a clicking sound with their tongue. If you don’t see an opossum make the noise with his lips, it’s really hard to believe that the sound isn’t coming from a keeper trying play a trick on you!
During the howdy yesterday, George was very interested in the girls. He got as close to them as he possibly could, given there was a mesh barrier to keep them apart. The girls, although appearing interested, were not happy with his close proximity. Magnolia opened her mouth to show George all 50 teeth she has in there. Seeing the girls were not thrilled with George, we separated them after about 10 minutes.
Today we did another howdy. This time we separated the girls from each other and had George get time with Magnolia first. This time he was a bit sleepy, and stayed curled up, but very near to the mesh barrier. Magnolia was very brave, and sniffing loudly, approached the barrier curiously. Of course, when George moved, Magnolia retreated a few feet, but she came back over to get a closer look at him several times. He kept lip-smacking away. Finally Magnolia must have tired of the game, as she moved away and took a nap herself. Maple, on the other hand, took one look at George and although she didn’t appear to be purposely moving away from him, she acted as though he wasn’t even there. Toys and other environmental enrichment were much more interesting as far as she was concerned.
Their behaviors over the next few days will give us insight into when, and if, the opossums will get a chance to meet face-to-face. And when they do, hopefully the result will be a litter of tiny North American marsupials!
Assistant Curator of Birds and Program Animals