She looks at you crazy, but don’t take it personally! She’s just a little confused with all the attention she has been getting recently. Meet Heidi the cross-eyed Opossum, a magnificent marsupial creature who has recently been taken in at the Leipzig Zoo in Germany.
This marsupial has become an overnight internet media sensation even being given her own song! Soon she will even be available as a plush toy. In recent years Germany has established a great record of raising celebrity animals. Back in 2007 Knut the baby Polar Bear cub became famous when the Berlin zoo had to hand rear him after he was rejected by his mother. Then there was Paul the psychic Octopus turned into a star this past summer when he correctly predicted the winner of each of Germany’s World Cup soccer games.
Heidi shares her home with her sister Naira and friend Teddy. All three marsupials arrived at Leipzig zoo on 5 May 2010 and came from the Ebeltoft and Odense zoos in Denmark. Heidi and Naira are thought to be about two and a half years old. Teddy is one and a half years old. Opossums have one of the shortest life expectancies of any mammal, typically 4 to 5 years. Teddy was born in Ebeltoft and the two sisters originally came from North Carolina in the USA, where they were found as orphans and raised in a wild animal sanctuary by volunteers. Heidi and her fellow Opossums will form part of Gondwanaland, a new tropical experience area at the zoo which will be opening on 1 July 2011. Leipzig Zoo says any money made by Heidi will be invested completely in the “Protecting the Sabah rhinos in Borneo project” which, as a rain forest conservation project, is closely related to the Gondwanaland tropical experience world. They stress that Heidi will NOT be on view to zoo visitors until the park opens.
Heidi is thought to be cross-eyed due to either the diet she had before being abandoned or because she is overweight, ‘which can lead to fat deposits around the eyes’ pushing the eyes out in an unnatural manner. Luckily Opossums are crazy creatures that only come out at night and can find their way around using just their noodley noses. To help Heidi vets at the zoo are putting her on a diet, not Weight Watchers, but a special high fibre that is low in energy, Heidi has apparently already lost a few hundred grams in weight.
Opossums are frequently confused as being the same as Possums but they are not. Possums are found in Australasia and have a very different appearance than their American cousins. There are several different species of Opossums which are members of the marsupial family, animals which raise their young in a pouch. Heidi belongs to the Virginia Opossums which are found all the way from southern Canada, through the USA and Central America. All species are still plentiful and are not threatened with extinction. The common Opossum is actually the only marsupial animal to be found in Canada and the USA.
Opossums are excellent tree climbers and spend much of their time above the ground. They are aided by very long sharp claws, which dig into the bark, and by a strong gripping tail that can be used as an extra limb. Opossums often settle in tree holes or in dens left by other animals. Forests and shrub land are their favourite habitat but it is not uncommon for them to be found in parks, gardens and man made structures like barns or sheds.
Even though Opossums are solitary, nocturnal animals, they adapt to human habitat easily and as scavengers they often visit houses to raid rubbish in search for easy food. They are omnivorous creatures and as such their diet consists of anything ranging from carrion, grass, nuts, and fruit to small animals, eggs and insects. They may look placid and harmless they will hunt mice, birds, insects, worms, snakes, and even chickens. They can open their jaws to almost 90 degrees and this results in a powerful bite.
An amazing trick that opossums do is that they can play dead! It is known as “playing possum” whereby the Opossum or Possum reduces their breathing and heart rate and give off a really bad smell. Essentially they mimic the appearance and smell of a dead or sick animal which is a perfect deception for predators.
Cunning and cross-eyed, these are truly incredible creatures.