We’ve all seen plenty of opossums, which are common throughout North America. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of opossums we see are squashed on the highway. Whatever their other life skills, looking both ways before crossing the road isn’t among them.
You almost certainly don’t want one as a pet. They are ugly, nasty and strictly nocturnal.
Although they look just like giant gray rats, opossums aren’t members of the rodent family. Opossums are marsupials.
Like wallabies and kangaroos, opossums give birth prematurely to very tiny embryos. The blind, hairless embryos crawl through their mother’s fur and into her pouch, where they nurse and finish maturing into babies.
Since most marsupials are found in Australia, the most interesting question is how these oddball critters got to the Americas in the first place. Some people assume early sailors must have brought them here.
But it’s more complicated.
According to geologists, during the Cretaceous Period – from 146 million to 65 million years ago – the current Southern Hemisphere continents, including South America and Australia, were connected into one giant continent called Gondwana. In other words, it seems likely the opossums simply walked to South America from Australia.
Years later, North America and South America joined by way of the Isthmus of Panama. The opossums walked northward, and here they are.
You’d think an animal adaptable enough to make such a journey would be smart enough to avoid traffic, but apparently long journeys don’t require special intelligence.