Opossums are incredibly useful and typically misunderstood. Did you know that opossums provide free pest control? They are more beneficial as scavengers, than harmful for any damage they may cause. Opossums are excellent at rodent and insect control and, being carrion eaters, help keep roadways and neighborhoods clean. A neighborhood with opossums is considerably cleaner than a neighborhood without them!
Opossums rarely cause problems for humans, but often frighten people by their rat-like appearance. Opossums are not aggressive animals. However, when encountered directly, they will hiss and growl. Opossums certainly are not the cutest little animal. In fact, some folks go as far as calling them ugly! Opossums resemble a silver rat, with naked ears, long scaly tail and silver-tipped fur. The face of the opossum is almost pure white, with a pink nose and eyes like black shoe buttons. The little fellow in the purple azaleas to the left is a prime example of opossum cuteness.
The opossum is omnivorous, feeding on almost anything it can find or catch. You may have noticed this if you found one pawing through your garbage can. Ticks, particularly deer ticks, are a main item on the opossum’s menu! An opossum’s voracious diet consists of carrion, rodents, snakes, insects, slugs, frogs, plants, fruits, and garbage. They catch and eat rats and mice. Opossums are the “sanitation workers of the wild”! They have an unusually high need for calcium, motivating them to eat the skeletons of rodents and road kill. That habit gets about 8.3 million opossums killed a year!
Ideal opossum habitat is woodland, farmland, and suburban neighborhoods with water nearby. They are common visitors to backyards that provide the basic necessities, such as a source of water, food and appropriate den sites. Opossums are not particular, but gravitate toward areas with reliable water access. Although they spend most of time inland or in trees, opossums will head to the water to escape predators. Opossums can swim both underwater and along the surface.
Opossums aren’t indestructible, but they do have some pretty strong natural immunities. They do not harbor diseases normally found in dogs and cats, such as distemper, parvovirus, or feline hepatitis. Opossums are largely immune to rabies. Scientists believe that a body temperature too low to support the rabies virus is the reason. They are also immune to most forms of snake venom, including venom from cottonmouths, copperheads and rattlesnakes. This is because a protein in their blood binds to the toxins and neutralizes them. There are now research efforts to synthesize this protein to make anti-venom for humans.
Baby opossums are called “joeys”, just like baby kangaroos. Immediately upon birth, they use their strong front legs to clamber into their mother’s pouch. Young opossums are tiny at birth — about the size of a bee — and are blind, deaf and furless. They are so tiny that about 10 can fit on a teaspoon! Many do not make it. Once in the pouch, life gets no easier.
An opossum litter may consist of 25 young. Mama Opossum has only 13 nipples, so only those babies able to grasp a teat will survive. If the baby doesn’t fasten to a functioning nipple, it dies. As the babies age, they start venturing out of the pouch. But instead of wandering around on their own, they will often hitch a ride, clinging to their mother’s back as she scavenges. The young are fully independent at about three months. They depart to live the life of a solitary opossum — a transition that 60 percent do not survive.
“Playing Possum” Isn’t Make Believe! The most intriguing characteristic is the opossum’s ability to play dead. When confronted by danger, opossums can either make a run for it, climb a tree, or feign death. They can growl, belch, bare its teeth, urinate, and defecate. When all else fails, they “play possum” and act as if they’re dead. The opossum sinks to the ground while its eyes glaze over, bares its teeth, and lolls its tongue to the side, successfully simulating death. No amount of prodding, poking, or shaking will revive the opossum from its catatonic state. The opossum is not pretending! The animal has no control over this — it is involuntary!
When in this state, opossums sometimes produce foul-smelling fluids from anal glands. The smell is often described as corpse-like! It really does appear as if the opossum is dead. Its teeth are visible, as if in a death grimace. Opossums create such a convincing portrayal of death, including a putrid odor, that dogs and other predators will abandon them for livelier prey, as most predators will not eat carrion— and may leave the opossum alone.
You’ve probably never heard an opossum make a noise because they are fairly quiet. However, they do have a few distinctive calls. Young opossums will make sneezing sounds or a soft “choo choo” to call out to their mother, who responds with clicking noises. Males make these same clicking sounds during mating season.
The opossum is the only mammal that has four fingers and an opposable thumb, called a hallux, on each of its hind feet. They stand apart from the other toes and looks very similar to a human hand and thumb. The hallux provides the opossum with better grasping and climbing skills than most other mammals. Young opossums sometimes hang by their tails, but when they grow up, they become too heavy for hanging. But they sure are cute when they're young!
Looking For Humane Opossum Trapping In Germantown TN? Call Us Today At 901-598-8555 Or Fill Out Our Contact Form Below!