The Lowcountry is home to the only marsupial found in the United States -- the Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana).
Like kangaroos and koalas, female opossums harbor and nurse their tiny offspring in an external pouch, where they remain for about two months.
Typical litter size is six to nine young, but may be as large as twenty. At birth, each baby is blind, hairless, and smaller than a dime.
Fewer than half the babies live to adulthood -- some not even surviving the initial crawl up the mother's abdomen to the safety of the pouch.
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As the remaining offspring grow larger, they start hitching rides on the mother's back before venturing out on their own.
Fully grown opossums are about the size of a cat, with a pointed snout, long whiskers, and a pink, naked tail.
Opossums are found throughout the eastern half of the U.S. and along the west coast. They live in woods and farmlands, and they're mainly nocturnal. During the day they sleep in hollow tree trunks, brush piles, abandoned squirrel nests, or other protected places.
Contrary to myth, opossums don't sleep hanging upside down by their tails.
They eat almost anything--fruits, leaves, insects, spiders, birds' eggs, lizards, moles, slugs, and carrion.
Sometimes opossums invade suburban garages and service yards -- a good reason to keep your garbage cans tightly covered.
If you encounter an opossum and it feels threatened, it may hiss, growl, screech, and show its teeth - all 50 of them.
All this amounts to an impressive display, but opossums are remarkably unaggressive.
When cornered, rather than attack, an opossum feigns death. It keels over on its side, sticks out its tongue, and lies perfectly still. The animal can "play possum," remaining apparently catatonic, for several hours.
Like most wild mammals, opossums carry fleas and other parasites, but they're unlikely to develop rabies and pose no serious threats to people.
In fact, opossums face a host of dangers themselves. Predators include owls, foxes, coyotes, dogs, cats -- and humans.
Opossums were once a popular game animal in the South, where they were cooked much like rabbit or chicken and served with greens. The first (1931) edition of Irma Rombauer's widely used The Joy of Cooking included instructions on how to prepare opossum for the dinner table.
Encounters with cars are also a major cause of mortality.
In the wild, most opossums don't live longer than two or three years.
Vicky McMillan, a retired biologist formerly at Colgate University, lives on Hilton Head Island.