Some animals are successful at breeding. Some species of possums are one of those.
Often mistaken for an opossum, the possum is a type of marsupial native to Australia and Oceania.
There is some confusion when it comes to the way possums reproduce. Some say that they hatch, while others claim that possums give birth. Which one is it then; do possums lay eggs?
In this article, we will address these widespread misconceptions and explain how possums procreate.
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Do Possums Lay Eggs?
No, possums do not lay eggs. Contrary to what people believe, possums are mammals that give birth to live and underdeveloped young. This is a characteristic of viviparous animals.
Generally speaking, there are two options for animals to bring their offspring into the world.
They will either lay eggs and have no physical connection with the baby (oviparity), or they will let the embryo (later fetus) develop inside them, and when the time is right, give birth to a live young (viviparity).
Possums are, as we just mentioned, viviparous.
Both styles of giving birth have some advantages, but also drawbacks.
Advantages And Disadvantages Of Possums Laying Eggs
The main benefit of a possum hatching would be freedom and mobility; the mother would not be slowed down by having to carry lots of eggs in her belly.
The biggest disadvantage of laying eggs would be the exposure of the possum’s eggs to predators, weather, and other environmental changes. Letting the baby develop inside the reproductive tract, allows the possum mother to protect it until it’s ready to be born.
Why Don’t Possums Lay Eggs?
Possums don’t lay eggs because it is more beneficial to them to give birth to live offspring.
Millions of years ago, every animal laid eggs. Including human ancestors.
As time passed, animals slowly evolved and started giving birth to live babies because that was what helped them survive and get their species to the next generation.
That was what most likely happened with possums. It was dangerous for them to have shell-covered offspring sitting out in the environment, so they adapted to keep their babies inside them.
And one of evolution’s ways of getting to the next generation of possums was for them to give birth to live young.
How Do Possums Give Birth?
Possums are marsupials that reproduce by giving birth to a young that is not fully developed and needs to be nursed inside a pouch. Many species of possums will breed year-round.
Female possums reach sexual maturity around the age of 2 years as in Leadbeater’s possum, a critically endangered possum from Australia.
Some species of possums are polygynous, while others like the rock ringtail and the lemuroid ringtails are monogamous.
After successful copulation with a male, a female possum will give birth to live young after a very short gestation (17 days in the brushtail possum or 12-16 days in mountain pygmy possum).
To survive, these prematurely-born youngs will need to make their way to the mother’s teats that are located inside a pouch.
The pouch – or marsupium, from which the group got its name – is a flap of skin covering the nipples.
After latching to the teats, possum babies will continue their development by drinking milk that changes in composition to suit their needs as they grow.
Female possums will produce one or two litters per year – they cannot rear more young than they have teats.
In some species of possums, like the mountain pygmy possum, a female might give birth to as many as eight young, but only the four strongest will find a teat and survive.
Feather-tailed possums, on the other hand, only have a single teat and a single pouch young.
When they outgrow the pouch, possum mothers will carry the youngsters on their back. By watching their mother forage, these young animals can learn what foods are good to eat.
Some species of possums, like the honey possum, have a unique capability to suspend pregnancies, called embryonic diapause.
When the young develops enough to leave the pouch, because of the embryonic diapause, possums may give birth to a new young the next day.
Because of their short pregnancy period, a female possum may conceive and keep its second embryo in a “sleeping” state, ready to reactivate it when the first young are almost ready to leave the pouch.
In some species, like the Herbert River ringtail possum, weaning happens after 150 days, while in others after 70 days (honey possums).
Except for the honey possums which rarely live to see their first birthdays, possums can have a life expectancy between 6 and 14 years.
According to the University of Georgia, over 99% of the world’s animals reproduce by laying eggs. That’s because most of the animals in the world are insects, and most insects hatch from eggs.
Over 99% of mammals give live birth, including possums. Out of around 6,500 known mammal species, only 5 lay eggs.
These are the duck-billed platypus, short-beaked echidna, eastern long-beaked echidna, western long-beaked echidna, and Sir David’s long-beaked echidna.
They are mammals that lay eggs and feed milk to their babies who are also known as puggles.
Most reptiles lay eggs. Out of approximately 11,000 known species of reptiles, over 80% lay eggs.
The only exceptions are some snakes and lizards that give live birth.
Most fish lay eggs. Out of around 34,000 known species of fish, less than 400 are livebearers.
This includes guppies, mollies, platies, swordtails, and some sharks.
All species of birds lay eggs. This includes all of the 10,000 recognized species of birds.
Some ornithologists claim there are twice as many bird species, around 20,000.
Almost all amphibians lay eggs. Out of around 8,000 amphibian species, most will lay eggs in freshwater habitats.
There are only a few amphibian species that give live birth (several frog species).
Almost all insects reproduce by laying eggs. Out of 1 million known species of insects, of which 350,000 are beetles, all lay eggs.
The only exceptions are a beetle from Borneo, another from South America, and some aphids.
Final Thoughts – Do Possums Lay Eggs?
In conclusion, possums do not lay eggs. These non-placental mammals reproduce viviparously and give birth once or twice per year.
Possums are considered pests in Australia, destroying native forests by browsing plants, affecting the extinction of species and loss of forest diversity, competing with native birds for food, disturbing their nesting, and preying on chicks and eggs.
However, these marsupials are protected by the law.
The main reason why possums do not lay eggs is evolution; giving birth to an undeveloped young helped possums procreate and survive to this day.
On the other hand, animals that hatch will have eggs that come in different forms! Some will have blue or white color, speckled patterns, and different textures, while others will be hard, soft, or even gooey. Animals may decide to lay them in the water, underground, or a nest.
If you were pondering on the question “do possums lay eggs”, we hope this article removed all doubts.
And if you enjoyed it, here’s a recommendation on another popular read: are cats marsupials, just like the possums?