Although its appearance may not be so pleasant, the opossum is a harmless and essential animal for ecosystems.
Often confused with rats, the opossums They do not belong to the rodent family but are marsupials. That is to say that the young are kept in a bag (marsupium) in the mother’s womb, as well as kangaroos and koalas. However, the opossum is the unique mexican marsupial and according to a pre-Columbian legend, he faced the gods to give us fire.
There are several versions of the story, with different elements but the essence is the same. From According to the Nahuatl legend, humans lacked fire and suffered greatly. They ate their food raw and suffered extreme cold at night.
One day, a star fell to Earth and set the trees on fire. Humans noticed that this could be the solution for their ailments and wanted to take it. However, the mountain giants (in another version, an old woman) captured that llama and brought it to her camp. There they made a bonfire and dedicated themselves to feeding the hungry fire that devoured everything without mercy. To prevent someone from stealing them, they formed a powerful army that guarded the flame. For their part, the humans were once again plunged into icy darkness.
Given this, the deer, the armadillo and the opossum met in a cave to talk about the problem of humans. They came to the conclusion that they had to do something to help humans and return the precious item to them; but they did not know how they could achieve it.
The opossum promised to get the fire.
His companions made fun of him because he was a small and harmless animal. However, the opossum was determined to get that fire and all he asked was that they not let it go out once they had it.
In the late afternoon, the opossum set out on its way to the mountain, to the place where they had a sheltered fire. As he was a very wise animal, he spent several days near the guardians, doing nothing to earn their trust. At dawn on the seventh day, when almost everyone was asleep, the opossum approached the bonfire and caught the fire with its tail as well as an ember that it threw into its mouth. Then he shot out of that place.
When they noticed it, they began to chase him and rained down arrows at him. The jaguar, who was the leader of the army, approached threateningly and the opossum then put the ember in his pouch. Finally, with his incredible speed, the jaguar caught up with the opossum, crushed it, and the fire in its tail went out.
Believing him dead, the jaguar moved away. Little by little, the other animals and humans approached that motionless body. But to everyone’s surprise, the little marsupial moved and handed over the piece of wood.
And this is how the opossum performed the incredible feat of giving fire to humans.
Its name comes from the Nahuatl tlacuatzin what does it mean “the little one who eats fire«. This in reference to the legend; In addition, it is said that its tail does not have hair precisely because when it carried the fire, it burned. Thus, its hairless tail is a reminder of the enormous favor that the mammal did us.
In other regions it is also known as ‘opossum’ or ‘mountain fox’. But when we talk about ‘opossum’, we usually refer to the species Didelphis marsupialis. In Mexico there are other species such as the northern opossum (didelphis virginiana), a fairly large specimen, and the opossum mouse (m)beautiful mexican) which is one of the smallest.
In Mexico we can also find the four eyed opossum (philander opossum), name that it receives thanks to its two white spots on the eye cavities. To the banana opossum (c)aluremys derbianus), whose main food is bananas. and to aquatic opossum (chironectos minumus), which has webbed feet for swimming and is always found near bodies of water.
his curious life
The common opossum It is a small marsupial, barely reaching 30 centimeters long and weighs just over a kilo. She has a long, tapered face, with rounded ears and no hair. Its body is robust and its tail is used to hang from trees. It is a nocturnal animal that lives in burrows in places with temperate to tropical climates.
is an organism omnivore because it feeds on plants, fruits, seeds, birds and small reptiles and even insects. In fact, it is one of the best pest controllers as it can consume large amounts of insects. During its search for food, it is able to travel up to two kilometers.
The gestation period of the common opossum is short and incomplete; only lasts from 12 to 13 days. Since it is a marsupial, the young finish developing in a pouch of soft hair on the mother’s belly, called pouch. There, the young, which can be up to 16consume milk during two months.
At birth, they measure two centimeters, they are blind and have no hair; in fact, his skin is so thin that his organs can be seen. After weaning, baby opossums already have hair and can see. However, they still spend four more months with their mother, who they cling to by the back to go everywhere. Their average life is two years.
The opossum has an incredible defense mechanism called thanatosis. It is a behavior in which it presents characteristics of moving such as immobility and bad smell. When this marsupial feels in danger, it emits an unpleasant odor that confuses predators, making them believe that it is lifeless. Thus, the animal loses interest and the opossum takes the opportunity to run away at full speed.
In addition, it is resistant to some snake venoms such as Jingle Bell and the little coral. Another marvel of the opossum is that cannot harbor or transmit rabies thanks to their nervous system, so they are not a threat to humans. And in fact, they are protectors of these because by incorporating insects into their diet, they become excellent pest controllers. Thus, they do humanity another continuing favor by not allowing insect populations to grow out of control.
Unfortunately, the opossum is a Threatened species since by ignorance of the people, it is confused with rodents and they end their life. Another serious problem is the displacement of its habitat due to different agricultural activities, forcing it to live in urban spaces. The conservation of these little animals is vital to maintain the balance in the ecosystems.