Opossums sometimes get a bad rap with their unusual looks and nighttime antics, but there’s actually a lot to love about these small mammals. They have the distinction of being North America’s only native marsupial, they can snack on thousands of ticks per week, they very rarely contract rabies due to their low body temperature, and they are even immune to snake venom. The North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island hopes guests will learn this and more with the help of Webster, a juvenile Virginia opossum and the aquarium’s newest animal ambassador.
Before arriving at NCARI earlier this year, Webster was orphaned and in the care of a local wildlife rehabber, who noticed the opossum was unable to use his hind legs normally. It was soon discovered that Webster’s hip joints were not properly developed. This condition would prevent him from climbing trees in the wild to search for food, escape predators, and to rest, making a release into his natural habitat unfeasible. He then came to NCARI, where he receives needed care, including physical therapy and supplements for his joints. Webster also adds to NCARI’s diversity, joining the North American river otters as the only mammals currently at the aquarium.
Animal ambassadors like Webster provide visitors with up-close encounters during educational programs at NCARI. Guests can get a unique introduction to these animals’ adaptations and learn about the vital role each plays in their ecosystem. Ambassadors are not always in view, and live behind-the-scenes where they receive excellent care from NCARI experts.
Webster was named with the help of NCARI’s online community. After Husbandry and Education staff picked three suitable names, those were put to a vote on the aquarium’s Facebook page. Over 475 people voted, with “Webster” earning nearly twice the votes of the other options.