This young opossum was in a small dogwood tree when I photographed it. Two others were in the tree farther up. This one was on a low limb, and although not "playing dead" it made no effort to avoid me.
The flash did not alarm the opossum, and he made no sound as I held the camera to within two feet of his face to take this picture.
Few if any other wild animals in Southeast Missouri behave this passively. Even a box turtle will withdraw its head into its shell when approached too closely.
After birth sometime during springtime, young opossums will remain in their mother's pouch for up to three months. Once out of the pouch, the young, which may number six to a dozen, will cling onto the mother's hair and continue to go with her on outings. When too big to ride, they will continue to follow her around until eventually at about 3 1/2 to 4 months of age the young will be left to forage on their own.
The opossum's natural range in North America extends throughout most of the eastern half or the U.S. Opossums are believed to be immune to rattlesnake venom.
First used in the English language in the early 1600s, the word "opossum" was coined from a similar term used by American Indians hundreds of years ago which meant "white beast."
Through the Woods is a weekly nature photo column by Aaron Horrell. Find this column at semissourian.com to order a reprint of the photo. Find more work by him at the Painted Wren Gallery.