If you are someone from the US, you might have spotted a possum at least once in your neighborhood. Possums are marsupials that are commonly seen in and around America especially in areas that are wet, swampy & marshy.
When it comes to marsupials, what sets them apart is the pouch known as the marsupium that is located on their lower-abdomen. Though possums are a common sighting in most areas, most people fail to notice whether a possum has a pouch or not.
So do possums really have a pouch? Yes, possums are marsupials and they do have a pouch. It is just that their pouch is not easily visible as that of other marsupials. Though the pouch of a Possum may not be as big or visible as that of a Kangaroo, it is an important part of their reproductive system.
The female possums give birth to their young that are hardly the size of a peanut. These newborn babies are not fully developed as one would expect them to be. These young and helpless babies have to somehow find their way into their mommy’s pouch. It is inside this pouch, where they grow up receiving all the nutrition & warmth they need.
It is quite disturbing to note that though female possums give birth to around 20 babies in one litter, not all of them can make their way into mommy’s pouch! It is estimated that only around half of the babies survive.
In this article, we will have an in-depth look at the pouch of a possum, the role of the pouch in reproduction, and many more interesting facts related to possums.
Let’s get going!
What exactly is the pouch of a possum?
As mentioned in the previous section, possums belong to the family of marsupials.
Before we delve into the pouches of marsupials, let us first have a clear understanding as to what a Marsupial really is. Marsupials are mammals that give birth to their young and feeds milk to their newborn babies.
So what sets them apart from the other classes of mammals (monotremes & placental mammals) is where their babies develop. Yeah, you guessed it right, baby marsupials grow inside their mother’s pouch.
It is important to note that the placental mammals have a lengthy pregnancy period because their young grow inside the mother’s placenta while remaining connected via an umbilical cord.
Unlike these placental mammals, the growth of a marsupial young that lack a fully functional placenta happens inside the pouch. The baby inside the pouch will remain attached to the mother’s body through her nipples.
So the next time you see a possum or any other marsupial, remember that their pouch is not just a convenient way to carry their babies rather as depicted in cartoons. Rather it is the life support system for the babies. These pouches (marsupium) are nothing short of an engineering marvel of mother nature!
Now that you have an idea of what the pouch is used for, let’s have a look at why do possums have a pouch.
The reproductive system of a possum
Before we proceed further with understanding more about the pouch (marsupium) of a possum, let us first have a look at the reproductive system of a possum.
The reproductive system of a female possum consists of a bifurcated genital, a divided uterus & the pouch (marsupium). Similarly, the male’s reproductive organ is a bifurcated genital and they reproduce sexually. What makes a possum different from the other mammals is the fact that they possess a short living placenta.
Unlike the other mammals, the placenta of a possum remains intact only for a short duration and is not fully functional as that of the other mammals. This means that the female possums cannot carry her babies in her uterus for long.
So in the case of possums, the gestation period is normally between 13 to 14 days and the young are born at a very early stage. These new-born possum young are more like embryo that isn’t fully developed and hardly the size of a peanut. These tiny possum babies must find their way into their mommy’s pouch for survival.
Why do possums have a pouch?
As mentioned in the previous section, the possums do not have a fully developed or functional placenta. This makes possums incapable of carrying their babies inside their uterus and providing necessary nutrition.
Possum babies are hardly the size of a peanut and they find their way up to mommy’s pouch right after their birth.
It is inside this pouch the rest of the development happens. These teeny weeny babies move towards mommy’s pouch through her fur.
Once the babies reach the pouch, they latch on the teats inside them. The babies tightly hold on to the teats using their mouth & front paw. It is through these teats the baby possum receives their nutrition similar to how other mammals receive nutrition through the umbilical cord inside the placenta.
A possum can generally give birth to 20 young in one litter but not all 20 can make their way up to the pouch. Only those babies who are strong enough can successfully make their way up to the pouch. In general, it is estimated that only less than 50% of the newborn possums will survive.
How long do the baby possums remain inside the pouch?
It is important to note that those baby possums that make their way up to their mommy’s pouch do not have any fur on their body and neither can they hear or see anything. They spend almost 2 months straight inside the pouch attached to their mom’s teats receiving all the nutrition & warmth they need to grow.
By the end of 2 months, the babies will have vision & can hear too. They will also be large enough and would have outgrown the pouch. Once they are 2 months old they slowly start venturing out of the pouch for short periods.
Eventually, mommy’s pouch cannot accommodate these grown-up babies and they begin spending time holding on to the mother’s fur while she moves around.
These young possums generally spend one more month with their mom before they venture out into the world all by themselves. So that makes it a total of 2 months inside the pouch & one month on mother’s back!
Do male possums have a pouch?
In the case of marsupials’ males rarely have a pouch. It is the females who have the pouch. However, when it comes to water opossum, the cousin of possums, they have a pouch. It is important to note that the male pouch has got nothing to do with carrying their young as a female does.
Male marsupials that have a pouch use it to protect its genitals from getting entangled in vegetation.
Is it safe to check the pouch of an Injured/dead possum?
Yes, it is absolutely safe to check to pockets of a possum, if you find one lying on the road injured or dead. When the temperature begins to rise during spring & summer, possums find it difficult to maintain the optimum temperature inside their pouch.
Since their body does not have an in-built mechanism to regulate the body heat, they have to depend on other ways. This is why they begin moving a lot during these periods and chances are that they may end up in areas that are close to human settlements. Well, that comes with its own risk!
Possums that live near human settlements face a high risk of getting injured or killed by vehicles or dogs. If you ever see a possum lying dead or injured please do check their pouch, especially during spring & summer.
Chances are that you will find baby possums inside the pouch. You don’t have to worry about anything as it is perfectly safe to handle possums and its babies.
In most cases even if the mother has died the babies will be alive. But they can’t hold on for much longer and they will need your help. If you find babies inside the mother’s pouch, it is advisable not to take the babies out of the pouch on your own because it requires delicate care.
The best thing to do is to carry the injured or dead possums to the nearest veterinarian or animal shelter where you can ensure expert care for the babies.