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Possum, Opossum

Family: Didelphidae
Opossums are North America's only marsupial or pouched mammal.  Just like the koala and kangaroo, Possums (as their name is more often pronounced) carry their newborns around in a pouch by their belly.  These animals have been dated back to the time of the dinosaur, leaving them with the nickname “The living fossil”.

The Opossum has a grasping tail which has a two-fold purpose:
it is used for climbing and also for storing extra fat reserves.  This extra fat helps the animal make it through tough times.  Along with their tails opossums have thumbs on their hind legs used to grip branches; this combination of extra rear thumbs and grasping tail makes them excellent climbers.
Opossums are cat sized, weighing between 6 to 12 pounds and 24-26 inches in length. They have pointed pink noses, hairless ears and 4 rows of whiskers.  Opossum are almost pure white with charcoal black eyes.  Although non-aggressive, possums have 50 white teeth and tend to drool and hiss, leaving the wrong impression on humans. They are extremely resistant to disease and snake bites.
This animal is less likely than most mammals to carry rabies, but like most wild animals is a big carrier of fleas.

Opossums can be found nearly anywhere, but suburban America is their ideal spots. Farms and wood land preferably. Although truly nocturnal, they have been known to be seen during the day. Piles of wood leaves or abandoned nests are the opossum’s primary den. They are extremely transient and are rarely seen in any particular den for more than two week at a time.

The diet of a opossum is very broad. They will eat almost anything, including small animals such as rats and mice and small insects such as ants, roaches and grasshoppers. They have been known to help out farm crops by killing slugs, snails and overly ripe fruit. 

Although opossums are solitary animals, females hang around to help their young. Their breeding season is at the end of winter, and having 2 litters a year is not uncommon. The opossum has the shortest gestation period of any North American mammal, only 12-13 days. When their young are born they are about the size of a termite or fly and weigh about 1/200 of an ounce. Females usually only give birth to 6-8 babies but they can have up to 18. The survival rate for the young is small though, the mother only has 13 nipples so if there is a large litter only those whose get a nipple will survive and nature takes a roll in how many survive. After about 60-70 days and 10-16 ounces, the babies open their eyes and venture out of the pouch. They stay with the mother for about 3-4 months, periodically going back to the mom’s pouch. 

Opossums have a unique ability to escape danger.  Playing “possum” is a common maneuver among these animals.  Falling to the ground, eyes glazed over, tongue hanging out, the opossum clearly looks dead to predators causing them to move on. 
Playing possum makes them look like old road kill.  Other escape possibilities are to climb a tree or fight.  Opossums are very slow animals which causes many of them to be killed by automobiles, as many as 9 million a year. 
To lessen your chance of getting a opossum problem, there are simple things you can do to keep these foraging animals from feeling welcome on your property.  [Prevention is often easier than control!]  For more on this topic, go to the Possum Control and Prevention information page.


Our thanks to Jason Helmig and Chrissy Gordon-Powell Helmig for writing this web article on Opossums for Professional Pest Control Products.

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