Wednesday, June 8, 2011

An Old Opossum

Needham Opossum was one old opossum. The end of his tail was missing, his ears were notched, his canine teeth had cavities, and his lower jaw was marred with a partially-healed wound.

His skull, as it turns out, is full of holes.

Needham Oppossum: Day 72

Seventy days after finding this opossum dead on the road, I pieced his skull back together. The braincase had separated from the rest of the skull, and the zygomatic arches had detached -- normal, it turns out, for opossum skulls, regardless of whether or not they're road casualties. What isn't normal, though, are the holes and pits that cover the right side of the opossum's snout.

Mr. Opossum likely had a nasty injury from which he never fully recovered. So infected were his wounds, even the root of his upper canine tooth -- visible in the picture above -- was severely deteriorated. The afflicted bone is thin, spongy, and delicate. I imagine life for this opossum had to be quite painful.

Opossums don't live for very long, in fact, they're quite lucky if they make it beyond a year. According to Animal Diversity Web, the oldest wild opossum was three years of age when last captured. And yet, I wonder -- how old did Needham Opossum live to be? Had he not been struck by a car, would he have lived much longer?


  1. Opossums are truly unique and yes, even beautiful creatures.

    The holes in the skull are very curious. Whatever injury or illness Needham Opossum endured had to be so awful that the roadside death may have been, in comparison, a merciful end. Thanks for documenting this specimen.

  2. You're very welcome! I had a great time watching him progress through his decay over the months, and I think I learned a lot. I agree - his death on the road was likely a swift end to his pain.