I’ve already written one post about how much I love opossums, but today we got our first orphaned opossum babies of the season, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share another example of how great they are.

At TreeHouse, we don’t take very young opossums, with their eyes still closed.  This is because, as marsupials, opossums are born at a very early stage of development.   Neonates are essentially embryos.  Inside their pouches, female opossums have thirteen tube-like teats that the babies will latch onto and remained attached to for around two months.  It is around that time that their eyes open.

Because they remain latched onto a teat as long as their eyes are closed, neonates do not have a suckling reflex.  For this reason, orphans at this age cannot be hand-fed via syringe, as squirrels and many other baby mammals can be.   Very young opossums must be fed through a tube that is inserted in the mouth, down the esophagus, and into the stomach.  Unfortunately, this is a very delicate and tricky procedure.  The babies’ tissues are so fragile that it is incredibly easy to cause severe internal injury when inserting the tube.  Since TreeHouse relies on a large force of devoted but frequently changing volunteers for animal care, it was decided long ago that we could not accept patients whose care is so difficult.

Once their eyes open, however, baby opossums can be coaxed to drink formula from a dish.  When they are a little older, they have absolutely no problem drinking this way, but when their eyes are just barely opened, they are very unsteady on their feet and don’t yet see well.  This is when we get to see what Adele calls “’possum soup.”

'Possum soup.

At feeding time, we place the babies in a container with only a cloth covering the bottom and a wide, shallow dish of warm formula in the center.  We set the baby opossums around the dish and basically dip their noses in the formula so they know it’s there.  From that point, it becomes pretty chaotic, as some babies will dive right into the formula—literally—while others stagger around in circles, huddle together in the corner, or just fall over sideways while trying to walk.  Watching from above, the person feeding makes sure that none of the babies get stuck or chilled, but otherwise it’s pretty hands-off.  The ones that go swimming in the formula dish inevitably manage to drink some, and when they get out the others will pile around and lick the formula off their fur.  It’s absurdly cute.

It generally only takes two or three feedings for the babies to get the hang of lapping formula out of the dish, but we always get a few that prefer to swim in it.  So, we get to see more ’possum soup.