Creature Feature: Cher the opossum

This beautiful opossum is Cher! She lives on exhibit with her brother, Sonny, in Carolina Wildlife. In the picture above, she was in a tub of random enrichment items that was on the support hall. She had climbed into it during her exercise time while her exhibit was being cleaned.

Cher (along with her brother, Sonny) was born in March of 2009 and arrived at the museum in late April. Both of the opossums were found motherless when they were very young, and they were rehabilitated and brought to us. (click here to see the original post about their arrival) Cher is not yet a year old, but she is already full-grown. Opossums have short life spans, usually only living two to four years. This means that they grow quickly! When Cher came to us, she was about the size of a small kitten (see the picture to the right). In the next couple of months, she and Sonny continued to grow at a very fast rate, and by June they had almost tripled in size. (in the photo to the left, Cher is behind Sonny) Now she is full-grown, and her brother Sonny is even much larger than her!

When Cher first came to us, she was extremely skittish and hid from the keepers when they entered the exhibit. But we spent a lot of time trying to get both of the baby opossums accustomed to being handled because we assumed one of them would become an education animal instead of an exhibit animal. As it turns out, Sonny and Cher continued to get along well together when they got older, so we decided to keep them together on exhibit. We quickly had Sonny neutered so we wouldn’t have more baby opossums, and they have been doing great ever since!
Cher has gotten much better with people, and is actually quite gentle and sweet. Occasionally, the educators will use either Sonny or Cher for classes, because they both have great temperaments. One of the things Cher is known for is opening her mouth and showing her teeth when anyone tries to pick her up. However, she is all show and no bite… at least up to this point! We are still cautious when picking her up, but once she is in a person’s arms she becomes very docile.
Like some of our other animals such as Wendy the woodchuck and Lightning the donkey, Cher can be mischievous when given the opportunity. Her brother, Sonny, tends to stay hidden on the hall when we give them exercise time. But Cher will venture around and check things out. And if there is something to climb, you will probably find her at the top of it! Below is a picture of Cher climbing around on the counters of our exam room one morning. (you can see the full post about this and more great photos here)

There are many fun facts about opossums that you can learn by clicking on the sites below. A few of them are listed to peak your interest!

National Geographic , Wikipedia , and the National Opossum Society websites.

— Opossum mothers have a gestation period of only 12-14 days, which means they give birth to tiny hairless babies that will climb immediately into the pouch and continue to develop there for the next few months.

— The term “playing possum” comes from an involuntary shock-like state that occurs when an opossum is frightened and cannot flee from the threat.

— Opossums are highly resistant to the rabies virus due to their lower body temperature compared to most placental mammals.

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