Last day to help name Wild Center’s new opossum

Wild Center veterinary technician Ruth Valentine holds the museum’s new opossum while her cage is being cleaned. The marsupial has not been named yet and fans of the Wild Center can submit suggestions on the museum’s Facebook or Instagram pages. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

TUPPER LAKE — Visitors to the Wild Center museum and its Facebook page have the opportunity to name its newest animal, and out of around 45 species, its first marsupial resident.

The seven-month-old Virginia opossum from Georgia arrived in Tupper Lake in September and is on its way to becoming a regular member of the Wild Center’s programming.

The female opossum been hit by a car in the southern state and spent nearly half of her life in rehabilitation before moving north to the Adirondacks, a rare place for the member of the family.

She has suffered from neurological damage, impacting her ability to walk, and she was initially only able to be fed by bottle.

She has been weaned off the bottle and was up walking around and exercising while she spent the mandatory 30 days in quarantine at the Wild Center. Wild animals entering the museum are tested for internal and external parasites, which most animals are susceptible to. She must have three negative fecal samples, taken every two weeks, and currently has one.

She is still secluded from the museum’s main building and the rest of its 400 animals as staff members wait for her to be parasite free, but is far from living in isolation. Facilities Coordinator Kathleen Brannon has adopted the role of “opossum holder,” carrying the 2 kilogram marsupial in her lap as she does desk work. The opossum had been a baby when she was hit by the vehicle that killed her mothe. Since then she has grown up around humans, imprinting on them.

“Imprinting” occurs when an animal is raised around humans instead of in the wild. They do not develop many of the survival skills they would need and do not have the natural fear of people most creatures have. This makes her incredibly comfortable being held, fed and taught by Wild Center staff and will allow her to be a program animal, brought out by the museum’s education staff to teach visitors about the unique creature.

Wild Center staff described her as being “sweet” and said they cannot wait to share the the experience of seeing such a calm, adorable animal up close.

“You can come to work in a bad mood, but you can’t hold it around these animals,” Curator Leah Valerio said. “We feel incredibly lucky to get to spend time with the animals; just being in their presence is a really joyful experience.”

Though the Wild Center mostly features Adirondack animals and opossums are commonly found in the southern portion of New York, Valerio said the past decade has brought more sightings in the North Country as global climates change.

“Part of that probably is our winters aren’t as extreme,” Valerio said. “The changing nature of our climate is going to change what animals and plants we see here in the Adirondack Park.”

Valerio said with more opossum sightings, she wants to start teaching visitors about the marsupial.

Opossums are one of the few species that have opposable digits they use for bringing food to their mouths and climbing trees. As omnivores in the wild, they can eat snails, small rodents and anything they can get their paws on. At the Wild Center, their opossum eats a mixture of yogurt, apples, radishes, spinach and dehydrated chicken.

Facebook and Instagram users have been learning about the museum’s opossum over the past few weeks in order to give her a fitting name. Valerio, who has been one of the Wild Center’s employees tasked with naming animals arriving at the museum, said she was handing the job off to the public this time.

“I’ve been naming animals for almost 20 years, and I’m fresh out of creative names,” Valerio said. “We’ve got a lot of suggestions. Some of them are a little crazy; some of them are really adorable.”

With dozens and dozens of name suggestions on social media, including “Stranger Things” references, names submitted by children and opossum-based names, the Wild Center workers will have plenty of options to chose from when they make a decision.

Names such as “Marcy” allude to both the Adirondack region and her marsupial classification while names like “Opossum McOpossumPants” allude to, well, the fact that she is an opossum.

Today is the last chance to submit a name on the Wild Center’s Facebook or Instagram pages, and staff will announce their decision in the near future.