The Pelican Harbor Seabird Station has announced the passing of Bruce the Virginia Opossum. Bruce, who had become a celebrity, passed quietly on the afternoon of Thursday, Feb. 11, in the company of his beloved friend and caretaker Mary Diddle, who serves as the bookkeeper at Pelican Harbor Seabird Station (PHSS).
Bruce and Mary formed a close bond during Bruce’s busy tour schedule onsite and at local schools, where Mary served as his handler and espoused the many benefits of opossums. Bruce, who was unable to be released due to a neurological disorder affecting his ability to walk, was often in the administrative office and beloved by all.
Bruce, who would have turned 3 years old next month, was preceded in death by his close friend Orange Blossom (aka Merle), who served as the station’s first education ambassador opossum. He is survived by Basil, who celebrated her first birthday this past October. Bruce was to be laid to rest beneath his favorite tree at the new 2.6-acre riverfront preserve. The average life span of an opossum is two to four years, so staff knew Bruce’s time was close.
Bruce was made famous with his May 18, 2019 cover on the New York Times Art Section with New York Times Best Selling author Thomas Harris, creator of the Hannibal series, whose new novel, Cari Mori, is partially set at PHSS. Bruce’s national fame was further elevated after the New York Times cover garnered him many over 13,000 additional fans when his photo was shared on a celebrity opossum named Sesame’s Instagram pagecalled @ItsMeSesame, which has 200,000 followers. This national attention combined with Bruce’s adorable look and personality quickly made him PHSS’s most popular ambassador animal.
He received 50 honorary adoptions during his time with the station. He was so popular in fact that out of eight different animals, Bruce received the lion’s share of adoptions accounting for 34 percent of all honorary adoptions. With more than 400 opossums treated last year (mostly orphaned babies), these funds not only went to Bruce’s care but also for that of orphaned babies.
The mission of PHSS is to rehabilitate and release native wildlife, but Bruce was given a second chance at life by joining the family.
“Pelican Harbor Seabird Station enabled Bruce to live his best life in spite of his disabilities,” said Thomas Harris. “He was a fine possum and a good companion and support to me when we were dealing with the New York Times. He will be missed by his best friend Mary and all the friends of The Seabird Station.”
Baby opossums often come in litters of 13. Wildlife rehabilitators distinguish the babies from each other by color-coding the ears with a dot of non-toxic nail polish. Bruce’s ear was painted green, and thus the “nickname” Bruce was assigned due to the Hulk, Bruce Banner, being green.
“We don’t typically name our patients said wildlife rehabilitation manager Yaritza Acosta, but we knew very early that Bruce was a special boy and that he would be a candidate to join our ambassador program since he couldn’t fend for himself in the wild. He will be missed.”
In lieu of flowers, friends are asked to make an honorary adoption of Bruce’s friend Basil to support her care and that of the hundreds of orphaned opossums that will come through the clinic this year. Alternatively, memorial gifts of any size can be made in Bruce’s honor.