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7 Fascinating Facts About Opossums

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7 Fascinating Facts About Opossums

Opossums get a bad rap as garage invaders and “creepy looking” animals that wander up onto our porches at night. They’re not the cutest, in fact, some go as far as calling them ugly. The reality is, opossums are incredibly useful, and typically misunderstood. Here are a few fascinating opossum facts (and yes, the “o” is silent) that will make you think before you shoo them away from your yard!

Opossum Facts:

1. Opossums Kill Ticks by the Thousands
Opossums are voracious eaters that will try anything they find, something you know quite well if you’ve ever found one pawing through your garbage bins. Ticks, particularly the black-legged ticks like deer ticks that are responsible for the spread of Lyme disease, appear to be a top item on the opossum’s menu. Several years ago, biologists from the Cary Institute put opossums and other species, like chipmunks, squirrels, mice, and catbirds to the test, giving each animal 100 ticks to eat. Opossums killed and ate far more ticks than any other animal, leading scientists to estimate that just one opossum eats, on average, 5,000 ticks in a single season. See some of our tick remedies here!

2. The Only Known North American Marsupial
Outside of Mexico, the Virginia opossum is the only known marsupial to make its home in North America – although there are several other species of opossum that can be found in other parts of the world. Marsupials are a fairly small class of animals that raise their young in a pouch, and include kangaroos, wombats, koalas, and opossum.

3. Opossums Are Incredibly Agile
If you’ve ever watched an opossum at play, it might have struck you as a somewhat clumsy little critter. However, opossums are world-class tree climbers, with sharp claws, opposable thumbs on their hind feet, and a prehensile tail that helps them scale trunks and hang onto branches. In fact, opossums love trees so much that they often nest in tree hollows.

4. The Indestructible Opossum?
Opossums aren’t indestructible, but they do have some pretty hefty natural immunities. These animals are largely immune to rabies, although it can occur rarely. They’re also largely immune to venom from snakes like cottonmouths and rattlesnakes.

5. Opossums Make Strange Sounds
You’ve probably never heard an opossum make a noise before because they are usually 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 will respond with clicking noises. Males make those same clicking sounds during mating season. And when an opossum is threatened, it may hiss or growl.

6. “Playing ‘Possum” Isn’t Make Believe
Opossums have several defense mechanisms, including growling, belching, and urinating when threatened. However, their most famous defense mechanism is “playing ‘possum,” similar to playing dead. However, the mechanism isn’t the opossum pretending. It’s actually an involuntary reaction — a lot like fainting — that causes the opossum to seize up. When in this state, opossums sometimes also bare their teeth, foam at the mouth, and produce foul-smelling fluids from anal glands to mimic sickness. Once catatonic, an opossum can remain like that for up to four hours — an effective deterrent against predators that typically avoid carrion.

7. Baby Opossums Are Cute — And a Little Weird!
Baby opossums are called joeys, just like baby kangaroos, and when they are born, they are only about the size of a honeybee. The infant opossums crawl to their mother’s pouch, where they will stay for 2—3 three months. Baby opossums stay with mom for about 100 days and, as they age, they’ll start venturing out of the pouch more and more. But instead of wandering around on their own, they’ll often hitch a ride, clinging to their mother’s back as she scavenges (see video below).

Opossums are so often misunderstood but they are great creatures to have around. They’re docile, unlikely to threaten pets or carry disease, and they help keep pest populations under control. Instead of shooing them away, let them hang around and they’ll clean up ticks, venomous snakes, discarded birdseed, and more. Among all the wildlife visitor to your back yard, opossums are one of the best to have around.

Take a look at this fascinating video of a mother opossum carting her babies on her back! 

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15 comments

1 Patty rose { 12.06.19 at 3:27 pm }

Thank you for providing factual information on these precious beings whom are often maligned in the media and are accused of spreading diseases to humans etc

2 Susan Higgins { 10.12.18 at 8:25 am }

Hmmm… Noah. We can’t make up facts, sorry you didn’t like the real ones!

3 Noah { 10.11.18 at 9:28 am }

These are trash opossum facts make some true ones not fascinating

4 Carol Schaad { 08.20.18 at 11:45 am }

I have had opposums around for the whole 30 years I have lived at my house. Mostly they roll up when you go near them and don’t move. I had an older one in my garage where I feed some cats and he got run over. Last night I found 2 more in the garage – one older and one younger. They are cuter when they are young. The older they get the less hair they seem to have and they just aren’t cute. Cats pay no attention to them. I was afraid they were taking the cat food away from the cats but no the cats just keep eating.

5 Susan Higgins { 08.17.18 at 9:06 am }

Hi Roseann, Oh no! I wonder what happened? We recommend that you call your local animal control to report the incident.

6 Roseann { 08.14.18 at 2:13 pm }

In yard, looked to be at least 10 dead baby opossum. A couple had faces and white hair about 2-3 inches long. I had a appt so when I got home about 2 hours later, I checked and there appear to be at least 20 and they are all now decaying, including the ones that were developed. I’m distraught I feel so bad.

7 Deborah Russenberger { 05.07.18 at 6:53 pm }

I’ve rescued possums about 6 years ago, their momma was attacked by a coyote. I feed possums at my property, even was able to pet and bring one in for a spell and then tragically today, one was dead on the road, went to see if it was one I fed and saw something move, one of her babies, eyes still not open, all the others were dead.

8 Ann { 07.01.17 at 1:15 pm }

Darling video.
Had one in our backyard here in Nags Head, NC.
Previously, where we lived in Va Bch, VA….. also had one in backyard. All were near birdfeeders.
Now I know that birdseed is something they will eat up off the ground…. Great picker upper!
Thanks for sharing this video.

9 jack { 06.26.17 at 5:54 am }

And they ain’t bad eating.

10 Susan Higgins { 06.26.17 at 9:08 am }

Cute! We’d love to see pictures, Rhayge! Share with us on our Facebook page!https://www.facebook.com/TheFarmersAlmanac/

11 Rhayge { 06.24.17 at 8:31 pm }

I have housed an opposum since before her eyes were open. My cat brought her in as a present one evening and I didn’t have the heart to put her back out into the yard, not knowing what happened to her mother. She is almost 3 months old now and is an absolute sweetheart.

12 Nita { 06.21.17 at 10:14 pm }

Since you brought it up and furnished so many helpful facts, I must sgree (especially after today’s scathing post on our bulletin board) I would rather invite a whole slew of possums into my home than the frizzy hair grey predictor roaming the streets and alleys in and surrounding my beloved neighborhood. Yep, she pointed her long fangy finger at me today. Hurry home ’cause I get into trouble when you are assuming.

13 Susan Higgins { 06.20.17 at 5:03 pm }

You’re welcome, Maggie! We are glad you enjoyed the story.

14 Maggie { 06.20.17 at 4:39 pm }

Love the video and thank you for the education! I have a few ‘possums that keep my yard very tidy and I never need to worry about old leftovers. I a sure my neighbors are not too enthusiastic about them but my cats don’t mind them and they cause me no trouble. Thanks again for the education!

15 George Young { 06.19.17 at 7:59 pm }

I love opossums and think they are adorable. I’ve had a momma opossum with her babies under my porch for the last 3 years. I love watching them eat, them groom themselves. Would love to be able to actually pet or hold them. But I leave them be.

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