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Wild Animals/Dead Hanging Opossum


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A few days ago I had spotted an opossum in my neighbors tree that seemed very languished. The opossum has not moved from the spot and is hanging upside down by it's tail, with flies around it's body and mouth. 1. Even if it was alive, I thought they wouldn't be able to support their weight and hold on by only their tail unless they were babies? 2. If it is dead, how is it possible that it's hanging by just it's tail and hasn't fallen out?


Dear Mike

Thank you for your question. I also wish to thank the authors of the websites I used.

I must admit that I haven't heard of opossums hanging upside down by their tails for several days. Various websites state that adult opossums can't hang by their tail at all. I strongly suspect that the opossum is dead, hence the flies, and that it is still hanging due to the use of the rete mirabile, which is a network of capillaries that prevents blood flowing to certain parts of the body. Probably the most famous example of this is why penguins can stand on ice for several hours. There is more information at says that a slow loris can maintain a strong grip for hours without losing sensation due to the rete mirabile. There is more information at I have read that a dead potto can still cling to a tree and I can only surmise that the opossum has a similar mechanism that enables it to cling to branches after death.

I hope this answers your question.

All the best


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Jonathan Wright


I can answer questions about wild mammals and other animals, as well as extinct animals and zoos. I am not an expert about every animal species. I can look up information from books and the internet, but can't verify if all the information is true. Please don't ask questions about: 1. Pets. I am not a vet. Please contact a vet if your pet is ill. You may need to spend some money if you want your pet to live. Don't get a pet if you don't know how to look after it and if you can't provide it with the space, food and possible companions that will help it live a healthy life. Don't take animals from the wild, unless they are ill and/or injured and you can protect them until a wildlife charity can help. It is cruel to take animals from their parents, especially if the parents will look for the babies, while putting their other babies at risk. You may be breaking the law by keeping wild animals or you may need a licence to look after some species. Please check with a local wildlife group. 2. Eggs: Please don't remove eggs from nests. The mother birds provide the right temperature for the eggs and won't sit on them if the temperature is warm enough for them to develop naturally. It is illegal to remove eggs of some species and, unless you have an incubator or a broody hen, the egg may not develop. If you are allowed to touch the eggs, you can candle them to see if they are fertile. If theys aren't fertile, they won't hatch. 3. Fights: Please don't ask about fights between different animals. These questions assume that individuals of two species fight each time they meet and that one species will always be victorious over another. This is untrue. There are cases where a live mouse has been fed to a venomous snake, bitten the snake leading to the snake's demise. 4: Diseases: Please ask doctors or other medical experts about diseases that you may catch from animals. I can't advise on how to deal with viruses, bacteria etc.


I have a zoology degree and have been interested in animals since I was two. I am a zoo volunteer at London Zoo. I have appeared on a BBC Radio Quiz, 'Wildbrain'.

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BSC degree in Zoology. 'A' level in Zoology. 'O' Level in Biology.

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