Violet the Virginia Opossom

Ambassador Days, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

You may have encountered a face like this in your backyard at night, but Violet here has a special job here at Wildlife Safari. Violet, a Virginia Opossum, is one of the park’s ambassador animals. She visits schools and community events with her keepers to help teach people about wildlife. She also helps tell people about her species, that they are more than just creatures that steal from your trash cans!

Violets curious little face – photo courtesy of Sarah Cutting

Virginia opossums are the only marsupial in North America. Their gestation period is only 13 days because their young spend the first 3 months of their life in their mother’s pouch, and the next few months clinging to her back wherever she goes!

Despite popular belief, opossums are incapable of carrying the rabies virus because their body temperature drops too low when they play dead to sustain the virus. They also help reduce the occurrence of Lyme disease – since ticks are a favorite food of theirs, they will eat about 5000 ticks in a season which cuts down your chance of getting one along with any disease they carry!

Nap time for a tired Opossum – photo courtesy of Sarah Cutting

Violet was found an orphan at Wildlife Safari and hand-raised by keepers. When she was found she could fit easily in the palm of your hand, but she soon grew up into an active and very agile little girl! “She’s very comfortable around humans and loves to use them as her own personal jungle gym,” says Education Intern Sarah Cutting, who works with Violet everyday.

Violet at only a few weeks old

Because her daytime eyesight is fairly poor, violet mostly explores her environment with her nose, and her mouth!

“Violet enjoys any kind of taste enrichment, from new sorts of bugs to munch on to the occasional tropical fruit, as well as rubber kongs” says Sarah.

Swinging from her house – photo courtesy of Sarah Cutting

“Unfortunately, opossums get a bad rap in the public eye,” Sarah tells us.”One of my favorite things about taking Violet on outreach is how surprised people are by how cute, soft, and clean she is. Violet is a great animal ambassador because she fights opossum stereotypes wherever she goes!”

Adventures of an Opossum

Behind the Scenes, Creature Feature, Uncategorized

Tucked under blankets, all snuggled up in her house in the education building, lives Wildlife Safari’s ambassador Opossum, Violet. Violet was orphaned at 4 weeks old and would not have survived without her keepers hand raising her. Since then she has grown from a little one that could fit in the palm of your hand into a full grown adventurer. She loves meeting people and teaching them about her species, the only marsupial not native to Australia. She loves walking with her keepers (she is harness trained), and napping in her nest box (which she fills full of blankets so its just right).

Violet snuggled up in a pouch

Violet snuggled up in a pouch – photo courtesy of Julianne Rose

A very curious little one, Violet has to investigate any cameras around – photo courtesy of Julianne Rose

The Virginia Opossum is native to North America and is the Northern hemisphere’s only marsupial (a mammal with a pouch to carry their young). Although they are commonly called ‘possums’ in the US, they are a different species entirely from true possums – species native to Australia.

Violet the Opossum considers grass for the first time

Violet the Opossum considers grass for the first time

Violet explores

Opossums are omnivores, eating fruits and vegetables, meat and insects. Violet particularly loves meal worms and cockroaches! They are nocturnal, foraging and hunting for food at night, and sleeping through the day. They have a prehensile tail which they use for stability amongst tree branches, although they can’t hang from them. Since they move around in the dark of night, they rely a lot on their sense of smell. “Violet primarily explores her world through smell and taste, so we get licked quite a lot,” says Julianne Rose, Lead Educator and one of those involved with raising Violet. Rose says the hand raising process is “exhausting but extremely rewarding” with regularly feedings throughout the night when she was small. Violet is now 8 months old and has her keepers charmed. “The education department wouldn’t be complete without her!” says Rose.

Violet

Violet settles in for a nap – being nocturnal, she sleeps for most of the day