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Mating starts for a matured opossum from 7 to 8 months after birth, and thereafter it breeds young ones for the remainder of its short life. Breeding takes place in January and October, during which a female and male come together to mate. This is followed by a gestation period of 12 to 14 days, which is considered relatively short for a mammal of its size. The female stays back inside the burrow for most of the gestation period and digs a small birth canal where it will give birth.
The female possum gives birth to a litter of 8 -18 babies inside the birth canal, an extension of the burrow. Opossums produce one or two litters every year, except in rare cases where some may produce up to 3 litters.
How opossums raise their babies
Babies of opossums are called joeys and they are born underdeveloped, tiny and blind with a tadpole-like appearance. A baby is so small that it can perfectly fit into the palm of a grown-up human. Female opossums are solely responsible for the raising of babies from birth till they are matured enough to live independently of their mother.
Their paws are developed though and immediately after birth, baby opossums climb up into their mother’s pouch, inside of which each one latches on to one of her 13 teats for nourishment. Any baby opossum that fails to successfully latch on to a teat will unfailingly die. In actual fact, less than half of the babies given birth to in each litter survive to adulthood.
After 8 to 12 weeks of living and feeding inside their mother’s pouch, the now seeing baby opossums move out of the pouch and cling to their mother’s back as she forages around. They also start to eat foods such as grasses and fruits. Back in the den, they may occasionally return to her pouch to breastfeed. They basically live off their mother for the first few months of their lives.
They are finally weaned by their sixteenth week and can start to live independently. Each opossum moves out to find a suitable burrow to reside in. Then the mating cycle begins again when they are 7 to 8 months old.
Opossum have an average lifespan of 2 years. The lifespan is often affected by predation, availability of food and other environmental conditions.
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