Germany's version of Lois
Considering that a corpse flower (famous for its large blossom that stinks of rotting flesh) won the hearts of Houstonians, perhaps it’s not so strange that the Germans were taken with Paul the Octopus and, now, a cross-eyed opossum.
We know these opossums for rummaging our trash, hissing at cats and playing “possum” when cornered. They’re far from adored in the Bayou City, with residents comparing the pests to rats and nutria.
Germans views them differently. One opossum in particular, Heidi, is the latest animal to explode into stardom, first in Germany and now internationally. She’s captured adoring fans with her bulky body and bright, black eyes which turn toward her pointed pink nose.
Yes, she’s an obese, cross-eyed opossum and the Germans can’t get enough of her.
Since the first photos were published in December, the marsupial from Leipzig Zoo is gaining on Corpse Flower Lois. More than 180,000 Facebook fans from as far away as Bangkok and Montreal and clear across Europe have oooh-ed and aww-ed at Heidi's pictures, writing comments like, “So cute!” and “I want one!”
Watch the German YouTube video and observe the frenzy:
Leipzig Zoo insisted that the "media resonance was surprising and not planned," but it has nevertheless moved to protect the rights to her name and cross-eyed image — believed to be the result of pressure on her eyes created by fatty deposits. Luckily for Heidi and her fans, the squint doesn't hurt her. (Opossums have poor vision and rely on other senses — especially smell— to navigate.)
Experts say that like Knut, Berlin's famous fluffy white polar cub who was abandoned by his mother, and Paul, the late octopus who correctly predicted the outcome of all of Germany's 2010 World Cup games and Spain's victory in the final, the hype surrounding Heidi is fed by the ability of modern mass media to spread images and “go viral” around the globe instantly. (How Heidi did so without a Twitter account still baffles the CultureMap staff.)
The Berlin Zoo charted a 27 percent jump in 2007, the first year of polar bear cub, Knut, whose image as a playful cotton-puff ball of bear fuzz captured hearts around the world. That included U.S. star photographer Annie Liebovitz, who snapped him for an environment issue of Vanity Fair. The attention brought in nearly 6.8 million Euro (then $10.7 million) in revenue.
By the way, Heidi's an “opossum” not a “possum.” While in the South it’s commonly accepted to say “possum,” Heidi and the rodent-like creatures scurrying around our city streets are o-possums, and differ from the Australian possum.
The term “possum” describes any of about 70 bushy-tailed, tree-dwelling marsupial species native to Australia, New Guinea, and Sulawesi. Both opossums and possums belong to the Marsupialia (marsupial) infra-class but are classified in different orders. Heidi is a Virginia opossum (bald tail, long snout, small ears) and likely the species you’ve seen in your backyard. She’s not from far from here, originally heralding from North Carolina.
Until we ship the rest of our opossums to German zoos, we’re stuck with the hissing pests. Perhaps these facts will help you reconsider the backyard intruders:
- Opossums are the only marsupials found in North America.
- Opossums are eight times less likely to carry rabies than wild dogs, and only about one in eight hundred opossums is infected with this virus.
- Opossums are omnivores and help keep the rodent, snail and cockroach populations in check.
- Although they’re known to hiss and bare their teeth, opossums don’t attack and prefer to avoid confrontation.
- Opossums in South America are actually pretty cute and resemble chinchillas with large eyes, round ears and short snouts.