( Originally Published 1936 )
THIS is a very distinct order of mammals, but containing species which vary widely in general appearance, all, however, possessing certain characters in common. Chief among these is a pouch of skin in front of the body of the female to which the young are transferred immediately after birth, and where they remain, secure from danger, until able to shift for themselves. The Marsupials are nearly all Australian, except the Opossums, which are native to America.
FAMILY DIDELPHIDAE (OPOSSUMS)
The Opossums are small mammals living in trees and feeding chiefly on birds, eggs, small animals, and insects, though they will also eat vegetable food. They have thick fur, a moderately pointed muzzle, erect ears, numerous teeth of all the usual kinds, five toes with long claws, except the first toe of the front foot, which is unarmed and prehensile; the long naked tail is also prehensile.
Opossum (Didelphys marsupialis)
The Opossum is a native of the United States, where it is confined to the southern portions. It is somewhat rat-like in appearance, although much larger and more heavily built. The body is thickly covered with soft whitish fur through which project longer and thicker hairs, or bristles, and the tail is naked and prehensile. See Plate 39, Fig. 163. A nocturnal animal, it sleeps during the day, hanging head downwards from the branch of a tree, with the tail coiled round the limb. The animal has a singular habit of feigning death, when attacked, or " playing 'possum," and when in this state will allow itself to be mercilessly ill-treated. The Opossum is much hunted in the South, especially by the negroes, who prize it highly as an article of food.
The young are very tiny when born, only about half an inch in length, and are suckled in the mother's pouch for about thirty days; and after they are sufficiently grown to leave it, they occasionally return to it for some time afterward, especially when threatened by danger. As they grow larger they cling to the mother's back, their tails coiled about hers, and sometimes a family of twelve or thirteen young ones are seen thus attached to the mother, who creeps slowly about with them among the branches of trees.
Merian's Opossum (Didelphys murina)
This is a small South American species, measuring only about six inches without the tail, which is rather longer than the body. It is grey above and yellowish white beneath, including the legs and feet; the head is mostly yellowish white, with a dark ring round the eyes and a black patch behind them. See Plate 39, Fig. 164. In habits it does not greatly differ from the preceding species.