The Story of Cinder, the Recovered Opossum

A Virginia opossum

by Lauren Masellas, Animal Control Officer

Thanks to some observant citizens, an opossum was spotted running from a recent house fire on Kirk St. in Springvale. I quickly secured the severely burned animal and transported her to the Center for Wildlife. There it was discovered that she was a recent mom! Although her injuries were dire and the prognosis grim, the amazing staff at the Center for Wildlife would not give up on her or her babies…and neither would she!

She may always bear the scars of her brush with death, but we are thrilled to report she and her family have been released back to the area she calls home in Springvale.

If you see Cinder and her kids wandering around (eating all the ticks as they love to do), please feel free to say “Hello” and then leave her in peace. Despite being a bit homely (the one in the photo above is much more photogenic than most!) opossums are a beneficial and harmless species. Watch the video of Cinder’s release with her kids.

Maine’s Misunderstood Opossum

Personally, I love opossums, the only marsupial found north of Mexico. Just like a kangaroo, opossum babies grow and develop in the mom’s pouch – up to 12 of them at a time! And since opossums are nomadic (they don’t nest) poor mom is stuck lugging them around 24/7.

Every spring I get dozens of calls from people. They range from “there is a giant rat in my garage” (although, one time I recall, it really was a big rat!) to “a vicious, hissing animal I’ve never seen before is in my backyard.” O.K. I’ll be the first to admit, these guys are unique looking. They’re about the size of a big house cat, but they look more like a giant mouse. They have naked ears, naked feet with long toenails, even longer thick naked tails, beady black eyes, narrow snouts and an impressive mouth full of very sharp teeth. Their thin but coarse hair can range in color from black to white, but most are a creamy gray.

Notice how many times I used the word “naked” when describing the opossum? Therein lies the problem! This is Maine. Even in the good season, anything “naked” could be at risk in our climate! What I invariably find when responding to such a call is an opossum looking for all the world like the losing end of an argument. Frostbit everything- pieces missing off tails and ears- and these guys aren’t exactly supermodel candidates to begin with, so they’re a sorry sight indeed. They fit the image of a crazed, rabid something for sure. But that’s a bum wrap, they’re not even a rabies vector species (body temperature is too low to support the virus).

Ignore their “desperado” looks, they would rather roll over and play dead, hence the term “playin’ possum,” than stand up for themselves. In a hostile Maine environment, this may not be the best choice of survival strategies. Despite their false bravado of hissing when cornered, they are not aggressive. And although they may borrow a hole or den for safety or in bad weather, they do not nest or burrow so they are not destructive. The next time you come across a wandering opossum, don’t be so quick to judge! They’ve traveled a long way to join us here in Maine.  If you leave them alone, they will definitely leave you alone. And since they love to wander aimlessly around in search of a meal, chances are they’ll be gone by morning.

Should you find yourself curious, or in conflict with any of Maine’s fascinating wildlife, check out the Humane Society of the United States at www.hsus.org Look for pages entitled “wild neighbors” under their animal section. You can also contact the Center for Wildlife at 361-1400 or www.thecenterforwildlife.org. They specialize in helping injured wildlife and have a wealth of knowledge and additional resources dealing with many species. It is also important to note that in Maine, it is unlawful to trap and relocate, or “dispose of” wildlife without permission from the Maine Warden Service. To reach our local Game Warden, call the dispatch center at 1-800-452-4664.