7 Fascinating Facts About Opossums You May Not Have Known
Fact: opossums can eat ticks by the thousands. Among all the wildlife visitors to your back yard, these strange little creatures are actually the best to have around. Learn more!
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!
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).
Take a look at this fascinating video of a mother opossum carting her babies on her back!
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.
Amber Kanuckel is a freelance writer from rural Ohio who loves all things outdoors. She specializes in home, garden, environmental, and green living topics.
Continuation of my winter in IL, opossums in feral cat shelters. I had 3 cat shelters and 3 opossums. The 2 cats never used them but they were there in case, past years. It was so interesting, they rotated the bins I guess thinking they were not spending all their time in one spot. Anyway the shelters do have several inches of straw, a tarp wind block and a parson table outside each one covered by a tarp so the opening to the insulated bins are protected and dry from any snow and wind. The blankets were actually quilts that I checked daily. At first I was so afraid of parasites that I read about on other sites. These quilts never had fleas. Also they did not smell even though an opossum was wrapped in them for a week or more at a time. The only “odor” in one of them was like dog feet, not unpleasant at all like the other sites claim. Spring came and each opossum left as soon as the weather got warm. This coming winter I’m going to use old garbage cans, stuffed full with straw and keep it under the deck that is 5′ high and on top of that create a palate covering on 3 sides. I’m so glad people like opossums. I love them.
so happy to hear stories like this, people are afraid of their own shadows most times & do not like sharing their back yard, nice to know their are those that care.
I started reading opossum facts this year. They are fascinating. My neighbor too is a bully and doesn’t like birds, gardening, flowers, etc. I had a hole cut in my fence for the wild life to enter my yard. Anyway, I didn’t realize opossums were not really well equipped to handle the harsh IL winter. One is sleeping in one of my feral cat shelters so I check the blankets in there daily and I also leave food out for all of them every night. Today the opossum was all curled up in the blanket that it somehow got it all around it. It looked just like a blanket cup – fascinating. The shelter is insulated/wind proof and covered by a tarp so hopefully it does ok this winter. Glad to know there are other people who like opossums too.
i also love possum. just a quick fyi…add hay/straw under the blanket because the hay/straw will offer the wildlife and the feral cats more warmth. Blankets are nice and soft but out in the cold, they tend to stay frigid. the hay/straw will help retain the animals body heat and will not collect as much humidity and stay colder. I used to care for local feral cats in my backyard. I also had the insulated kennels and i bout heating pads they make for barn cats, etc. and tented them all together on my deck and somewhat insulated the tent with insulating styrofoam. Bless you for caring for them!
We closed our garage door late one night and the next morning I found a juvenile opossum curled up sleeping on the top of vegetative refuse in a five gallon bucket. It woke up and ‘grinned’ at me. Checked throughout the day and it slept just like a cat with it’s head upside down. I used to think they were ugly but seeing one up close changed that. What a little sweetheart. We waited until dusk before trying to move the bucket with a push broom. It jumped out and ran to the great outdoors. I left it a kitty crunchie pile for a snack, gone the next morning. We close the garage door before dusk now.
“kitty crunchie”? Everybody I know has always referred to what a cat leaves in the litter box as kitty crunchies.
As in “Oh lord, the dog is going after more kitty crunchies!” ?
Would a possum eat a pineapple?
I love possums my neighbor doesn’t like wild life. She had a trapper come get two Connie’s and a possum that’s been around couple years, I’m sure it was about three. Do they dig up yards? I’ve raised a few and never had them do that. Thank you. My neighbor and I don’t see eye to eye.
Good for you. they’er one of the best and lest harmful beasties around. Pet more Opossums. No they do’t dig but armadillos do.
I found an orphaned baby opossum today. Thanks all full so now I have a little one to rehab. If you have any advice I’d be grateful. He’s about 6 inches long. Not eating yet. But drinking from syringe and very scared! Just released a baby squirrel I rehabbed for months so I’m hopeful for this adorable little critter.
Should say “Rehabs” are all full now!
These creatures do NOT need your help! Live and let die. Other animals are needing their carcasses to live. Circle of life, Simba.
Save Opossums kill ticks, thereby help tame and wildlife as well
That is your opinion. I have another one
Jenn, we appreciate your big heart, butyou really should call your local wildlife official rather than trying to care for them yourself. They will bring them to facilities where they can get the proper help and rehabilitation they need.
Not likely too many will just but any young down
If a cat can eat it an Opossum can. Goats milk is good. They are very cat like in habits. Also when grown the best house predator one can have. Better than a cat for mice, rats and other like squirrels. No the house wiring does not appeal to them.
I love opossums,but do they have fleas?
Does opossums carry fleas.I love opossums they are cute
According to most websites, they do carry fleas as do all wild animals.
I have been putting food scraps out and happily the other night on my way to work the night shift I met the possum who has been taking advantage of my offer. It was love at first sight. I love possums, and live at the edge of a forest. I am thrilled to have them around my yard.
Thanks for sharing, Susan. They are fascinating creatures!
Is it a sign that a possum is sick if it runs around during the day this is a story I’ve heard
No, it’s rather normal in my area. They are nocturnal, yes, but I’ve noticed when any of them have babies whether visible or not it seems more common. I’m not sure if they are all moms, but everywhere I’ve lived there’s always been the daytime opportunists but none of then have been sick.
We have a small horse rescue and enjoy feeding a colony of TnR cats. Opossums dine with the cats and keep the tick population on the farm to nil. What wonderful animals.
We agree! Thank you for running the rescue and helping animals!
Thank u both
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
These are trash opossum facts make some true ones not fascinating
Hmmm… Noah. We can’t make up facts, sorry you didn’t like the real ones!
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.
This is what I found too. My cats actually wait for them and want to go out at the scrap dinner time.. (no garbage piles here :))
It would be wonderful if humans got along so well together, wouldn’t it?
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.
Hi Roseann, Oh no! I wonder what happened? We recommend that you call your local animal control to report the incident.
Since they eat carrion sounds like carcass poisoning. Ranchers and others do this frequently to
rid an area herd predators.
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.
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.
And they ain’t bad eating.
Eating low on the hog
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.
Cute! We’d love to see pictures, Rhayge! Share with us on our Facebook page! https://www.facebook.com/TheFarmersAlmanac/
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.
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!
You’re welcome, Maggie! We are glad you enjoyed the story.
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.