Often regarded as giant rodents that invade our homes (and garbage cans), opossums are expert scavengers with a lot of fascinating traits that you might not know about just yet.
These often misunderstood critters are actually useful mammals which have been suffering from a bad and rather misjudged image.
Read on to get more acquainted with these adorable wild creatures.
Opossums are marsupial mammals that originally come from South America. There are more than a hundred species of opossums. The most common species found particularly in the United States are the Virginia Opossums. The babies of these mammals are born with the size of a jelly bean and are carried inside their mother’s pouch for about 100 days.
The common opossum and Virginia opossum are two entirely different species of the creature. The former’s scientific name is Didelphis marsupialis and the latter is Didelphis virginiana. The name of the animal was derived from an Algonquin Indian word “opassom” which means white animal.
Read Also: What are some of the top opossum traps?
Opossums are excellent scavengers simply because of their excellent immune system and capability to effectively adapt to a wide spectrum of habitats and geographical climates.
Opossums however prefer a woody environment with a pool of fallen tree branches and leaves.
Like any other animal, opossums prefer to have food and water sources that are in close proximity to their shelter.
In most cases, opossums take refuge in abandoned borrows by other animals. Other preferable types of shelter are woodpiles, hollow logs, and your attic.
Opossums are technically the only marsupials found in the North American region. In some cases, they are being targeted as domestic pests, particularly as giant rodents since they can be seen feasting inside one’s trash can.
In order to avoid killing these creatures due to mistaken identity, it is important to have at least a basic knowledge regarding how opossums look like.
Generally, the size of an opossum is similar to that of a typical adult cat. An adult opossum can grow to as long as 21 to 36 inches from its head to the tip of its tail. It can weigh to about 8-15 pounds. These creatures however start out small with size comparable to that of a honeybee or a jelly bean as mentioned earlier.
The body of an opossum is covered with a greyish-black scratchy fur that is often accented with white stripes. Its face is white and matched with black ears and paws.
Although the body of the creature is covered with fur, an opossum has a long yet hairless tail. It has round dark eyes and a pointed pinkish snout.
Opossums are omnivore creatures. This means that the animal can eat a variety of meat and plant based food. They can eat grass, nuts, and fruits as well as birds, snakes, chickens, and wriggly worms.
Read Also: What is the diet of an opossum?
Opossums practice an excellent grooving behavior. Studies show that these remarkable creatures are efficient in eliminating and eating about 90% to 95% of ticks that try to secure a blood meal from them. This means that a single opossum can consume several thousands of ticks in a single year. They also eat a variety of insects and pests such as cockroaches, spiders, and slugs.
Opossums are also efficient scavengers. Apart from feasting on your pet’s food and road kill, opossums also love hosting a party inside your trash can. Their omnivorous simply allow them to eat almost anything found inside your trash can.
Apart from toppling off your trash can, opossums are non-destructive animals. They are not fond of digging holes. Instead, they live inside abandoned burrows and hollow logs as discussed earlier. Their living behavior also means that in a way, opossums can help you clean off those fallen branches and dead leaves on your lawn or garden.
Opossums are nocturnal creatures. They are most active at night basically scavenging for food.
Do opossums climb?
Opossums are excellent climbers thanks to their prehensile tails that can firmly hold on to branches, sharp claws, and opposable thumbs.
Do opossums swim?
Opossums are agile creatures and are very good swimmers. But most of the time, opossums prefer moving around from one place to another by land than on water.
Do opossums jump?
Although these creatures are excellent climbers and swimmers, they are not used to running at all. In fact, the fastest they can go on foot is through what seems to be like a breast walk.
”Playing ‘possum” or playing dead is not really the main defense mechanism of these outstanding creatures of the wild. The opossum pointy snout houses around 50 sharp canine teeth that will be deliberately shown to scare off predators. And when its bluff is called, the opossum passes out from sheer fright.
Read Also: Are opossum’s dangerous?
Are they venomous?
But despite its resounding reputation for being a scaredy cat, the opossum has the tendency to bite back when heavily provoked. Although such a case is considered to be a very rare case, its set of 50 sharp teeth is something to be reckoned with.
However, an opossum bite isn’t really an alarming case since the creature is not known to carry the rabies virus. Yet still, it is highly recommended to immediately seek medical attention in the case of an opossum bite to avoid possible infection.
With its fifty sharp teeth, a good bite from a provoked and aggressive opossum will most likely require some stitches. Despite the absence of the Rabies virus, a single bite from this creature will most likely lead to an infection.
Male opossums or jacks are not really a family-type of creature. After mating, they literally take off and never come back. Female opossums or jills on the other hand, get pregnant for barely two weeks and give birth to around 10-20 babies or joeys at a time. A single jill can reproduce twice in a year.
Once born, the jelly bean sized joeys stay inside their mother’s pouch. For about 50 days, the babies remain inside the pouch and another 50 for clinging on to their mother’s back. After which, these young opossums begin to live separately from their parents. Six to eight months later, the new generation of opossums sexually mature.
Opossums are originally from South America. However, these creatures were able to penetrate deep into the central and even northern part of the North American continent through what’s called as the Great American Interchange – a special geographical even which took place a very long time ago.
Of the more than 100 species of opossums, the Virginia opossum is the most common and it can be found in the northwest, central, and southwestern states of the USA.The creature was named as such because it was first spotted in the state of Virginia. Canada, Mexico,
Virginia opossums are also found in Canada and Mexico. On the other hand, other species of opossums such as the sugar glider is found in Indonesia, Australia, New Guinea, and Tasmania.
Playing ‘possum simply means playing dead. It refers to the most popular and effective defense mechanism of the marsupial when faced by a formidable predator. It is actually the opossum’s second line of defense when the hissing/growling and the baring of teeth prove to be ineffective in driving the predator away.
If you think opossums play dead on purpose, you’re wrong. According to experts, “playing ‘possum” is a natural and involuntary reaction. This simply means that such an event is an opossum literally fainting out of sheer fright. In this reaction, the creature mimics an actual death by falling dead flat to the side, baring teeth matched with foam at the mouth, and a nasty stench of death from a fluid excreted by the opossum’s anal glands. The creature remains in this seemingly lifeless state from several minutes to as long as four hours.
At first look, one might easily mistake this creature as a small rat. The scientific name of the creature is Monophelis domestica which means single-womb domestic animal. A native in the central parts of the South American region, the short-tailed opossum is a much smaller species growing only around 12-18 centimeters in body length. Most of its body is covered with greying brown fur and its tail is just semi-prehensile unlike the Virginia opossum.
- If you still don’t believe that opossums don’t have rabies then this fun fact about the creature can definitely put your doubts to rest. The rabies virus basically requires high temperature to survive and flourish. Fortunately for the opossums, their significantly low body temperature matched with an excellent immune system makes it impossible for them to carry the rabies virus.
- Did you know that opossums are among the oldest animals to have walked on Earth? Researches have proven that opossums have existed since the dinosaurs’ extinction.
- Young opossums suffer from separation anxiety. As discussed earlier, baby opossums live with their mothers for about 100 days. However, the younglings prefer to stay much longer by enjoying a ride on the mother’s back.
- Lastly, opossums are blessed with superb immunity. Apart from being immune from the rabies virus, they’re also unaffected by the venom of various deadly snakes such as the cottonmouth and rattlesnake.
Ed has been working in the pest control industry for years helping 1,000's of homeowners navigate the world of insect and rodent management. He manages Pest Strategies now helping homeowners around the world!
Table of Contents
Find A Local Exterminator