Opossum – Profile and Information

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There are well over twelve different species of opossums on the planet. The most notable of them is the common opossum or Virginia opossum.

The opossum is the only pouched animal (marsupial) that lives in Canada and the United States. Most people who have only seen opossums in pictures may think they are rodents or small animals, but opossums are the size of a large cat.

Opossums are adorable creatures with long, brown or gray hair and a long, scaly tail. The downside which is most notable about these creatures is their musk-like odor.

Scientific classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Infraclass: Marsupialia
  • Order: Didelphimorphia
  • Family: Didelphidae

Characteristics

  • Coat color: Dull grayish-brown & a white face
  • Legs: 4
  • Shape: Long-haired with scaly (prehensile) tail
  • Size: Head & Body length 15″ to 20″, Weight – 9 to 13 pounds but can range from 4 to 30 pounds

Reproduction

A female opossum births helpless young opossums as tiny as the size of honeybees. The Baby opossums immediately drawl back into the mother’s pouch, where they stay and continue to develop.

As they get bigger, the babies will go in and out of the mother’s pouch and sometimes ride on her back as she goes around hunting for food.

Opossums may give birth to 15 to 20 babies in a single litter, but less than half of the babies will survive. Some of the baby opossums never even survive enough to get in the pouch.

Scavenger Behavior

Opossums are natural scavengers, and they usually visit the closest human homes or settlements to raid dumpsters, garbage cans, and other containers.

Opossums are attracted to carrion and can mostly be seen close to roadkill. Opossums also eat nuts, grass, and fruit. Opossums will hunt birds, mice, insects, snakes, worms, and even chickens.

Habits

Opossums are slow-moving nocturnal animals known to play dead “playing possum.” when faced with danger.

Opossums are omnivorous animals and eat a feed on a variety of plants, pet food animals, and human garbage.

Though opossums are naturally sluggish creatures, they readily climb and use their tail to hold on to tree limbs or carry little objects.

Although a lot of people think that opossums are blind, these nocturnal creatures have strongly dilated pupils that lets them see well in the dark.

These animals are most known for “playing possum” when foxes, dogs, or bobcats threaten them, opossums sometimes flop onto their sides and lie flat on the ground with their eyes staring fixedly into space or closed.

They bring out their tongues and generally look dead. This ploy is meant to put a predator off its guard and give the opossum a chance to make its escape.

Habitat

Unlike other animals that create their own homes, opossums naturally take shelter in hollow trees and logs, garages, crawl spaces beneath structures, abandoned woodchuck burrows and live in squirrel’s nests.

Opossums are not animals to travel long distances to search for food. They are omnivores, and they prefer to set up camp close to readily available food sources.

Opossums love to feed on a wide variety of foods, ranging from grasses, fruits, insects, birds, mammals, fish, and even carrion. Opossums also have a reputation for keeping roaches and rats at bay since they usually have to compete for the same territory.

Opossums are solitary creatures and can have up to two litters each year. With up to 13 babies in each litter, gestation for opossums lasts only 13 days, and after that, the newborns live in their mother’s pouch for 90 days (three months) until they mature.

Tree Climbing

Opossums are excellent tree climbers and spend most of their time aloft. They are able to climb easily because of their sharp claws, which dig into tree bark, and by their long gripping tail that can be used as extra support for limb. Opossums nest in dens made by other animals or tree holes.

These animals are very common and are hunted as food sometimes, mostly in the southern United States.

Diseases & Other Threats

While opossums can indeed be a nuisance when they nest in and around houses, mites, flea, and tick infestations have been linked with their nesting habits.

Often, when people find an opossum, they are concerned about the potential danger they present. While opossums are mostly docile and rarely dangerous, they can attack if they feel threatened, biting back and posing a threat to other house pets.

However, while other mammals can get a rabies infection, the disease is quite rare in opossums. Opossums have a body temperature naturally too low for the rabies virus to thrive, so opossums seem to be naturally immune to rabies.

That doesn’t mean that opossums cannot carry other diseases such as spotted fever, tularemia, tuberculosis, and toxoplasmosis.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Opossums dangerous?

While opossums are mostly docile and rarely dangerous, they are known to attack if they feel threatened.

Are possums or opossum the same?

There are over a dozen varieties of possums, including Cuscus and Gliders, while the opossum is a limited species.

The opossums have a signature bare tail and are North America’s only known marsupial, meaning that they carry their babies in a pouch just like the Australian kangaroo.

Can opossums be good pets?

We can’t exactly say they make good pets. If opossums are kept as pets, they will most likely become overweight and potentially ill.

In addition, opossums are a solitary animal and will not get along with your dog, cat, or other house animals. If you already have pets, an opossum may not be a necessary addition.

What time of the year do opossums have babies?

The breeding season for the Virginia opossum usually begins in December and continues through October with most joeys born between February and June.

In a year, a single female opossum may between 1-3 litters. During the mating season, the male opossum attracts a partner by making clicking sounds.

Opossum Prevention Tips

Opossums enter into structures, and people do not appreciate their presence for different reasons. You may prevent opossums from entering your structure By performing exclusion methods.

Exclusion methods entail the use of a metal flashing and metal mesh to block all possible entry routes, and in some cases, you may have to reconstruct entry areas altogether. Making sure that garbage cans and any other readily available source of food are covered tightly can also curb opossum populations.

For people who have dealt with an opossum infestation in the past or reside in an area where rodents, opossums, and other wildlife are prevalent, enlisting professional prevention services may be the best option.

13 facts about opossums

1. Opossums and possums aren’t the same animals

In North America, people use the words opossum and possum to describe the same animal, but in Australia, possum is used to refer to an entirely different animal.

Among the many existing species, the most well-known ones are the brushtail possum and the Virginia opossum. Both opossums and possums are small to medium-sized, omnivorous marsupials, however, that is all the similarities they share.

The possum has an appearance of a cute cross between a chinchilla and a squirrel, and it is entirely different from the North American mammal that shares (most of) the same name.

Despite the widespread confusion, possum is used as the shortened name of opossum in some parts of the world ( if you notice the word possum in this article, you can assume it is referring to the animal called opossums).

2. Opposum is the only marsupials found north of Mexico

Marsupials are mammals that carry and nurse their baby in pouches (examples include koalas and kangaroos) —are absent from many parts of the world, and opossums are the only representative of this group of animals in Canada and the United States.

Like kangaroos, koalas, and other marsupials, mother opossums give birth to bee sized, underdeveloped offspring (known as joeys) that crawl into their mother’s pouch immediately they are born.

They live there and nurse during their first few months of life. They only venture out when they’ve grown strong and big enough, transitioning between the warmth of the pouch and their mother’s back until they mature into adults and become independent.

3. They cant choose when they play dead

Perhaps the most attractive characteristic of the opossum is it’s ability to play dead when attacked or in front of predators.

When an opossum experiences real fear in the presence of danger, it pretends to have a seizure and flops to the ground where it plays dead for several hours, sticking out its tongue and staring blankly ahead.

This trick is an impressive defensive mechanism; however, its effectiveness cannot be attributed to the Opossum’s professional acting skills. Opossums can not control when they act like they are dead or for how long they have to do it. The comatose-like state they fall into is an involuntary reaction that is triggered by fear or stress.

4. An offensive odor sells the performance

When you see a picture of an Opossum playing dead, you may find it funny, but it doesn’t do justice to the creature’s performance. To get a clear picture, you will have to stand over an Opossum to perceive the putrid odor it releases when pretending to be dead.

The smelly substance the comes out of an opossum’s anus is just another reason why foxes and bobcats have no choice but to look for their food elsewhere.

5. They slow the spread of Lyme disease

Even if an Opossum is not the cutest animals in the forest, if you can deal with the smell they emit when they play dead, then they should be a great addition to your backyard.

Unlike other wild animals that carry ticks, and spread Lyme Disease, Opossums eat up 90 percent of the ticks that hang on their bodies. According to the National Wildlife Federation, one Opossum consumes 5000 of the parasites each tick season. That means if you have more possums in your area, you’ll encounter fewer ticks.

6. Their memories are surprisingly sharp

Opossums have very sharp memories— at least when it comes to edible things. Researchers have discovered that Opossums are better at recalling, which runway led to a most delicious treat than cats, rats, dogs, and pigs. They can also remember the smell of toxic substances up to one year after they try them.

7. They’re immune to most snake venom

While almost every other animal looks at a snake and sees the danger, an Opossum considers a snake to be its next meal.

Studies have shown that opossums are immune to the venom of almost all types of snake found in their native environment, with the coral snake being the one exception. Possums are smart enough to take advantage of this adaptation by feeding on snakes on a regular basis.

Researchers have been trying to get Opossums’ antivenom powers for many years. A couple of years ago, a team of scientists achieved some progress on this front when they made a peptide found in possums and found noticed that when given to mice together with rattlesnake venom, the peptide successfully protected them from the venom’s harmful effects.

8. They almost never get rabies

Opossums, like other mammals, aren’t totally immune to rabies (a couple of cases have been documented), it is extremely unlikely to find one with the disease.

Marsupials like Opossums have a lower body temperature than other animals, which makes it impossible for the virus to thrive in their systems.

9. Their tail acts as a fifth appendage

Opossums are one of many animals that have prehensile tails. They sometimes use these appendages as an extra arm: Opossums can carry leaves and grass for building nests or hold on to the sides of trees to give themselves extra stability while they climb.

Baby Opossums can even hang from branches upside down using their tail, as they’re often shown doing in animations.

But it is not true that possums sleep upside down: The tails of opossums are only firm enough to hold them upside down for a short amount of time.

10. They’re constantly self-grooming

Because Opossums are always Playing dead and acting smelling like a corpse, opossums are not known to be the most sanitary animals in nature.

However, they are serious when it comes to cleanliness: Like house cats, Opossums use their paws and tongue to groom themselves often and thoroughly.

These creatures largely lack sweat glands, and it is believed that this grooming behavior helps them to cool down. The grooming behavior also has the added result of rendering these animals odorless.

11. Their eyes aren’t totally black

One of the most noticeable features of the opossum is its pair of opaque eyes. The eyes of opossums have whites and irises, but since they have huge pupils, their eyes look entirely black at first glance and from a distance.

It is believed that the exaggerated pupil dilation helps the opossum to see well after the sun goes down.

12. They’re social creatures

People have long assumed that Opossums prefer to keep to themselves, but recent findings published in the journal Biology Letters claim that they can also be social.

13. Their reproductive systems are complicated

The way opossums give birth and raise their joeys isn’t the only interesting thing about the opossum’s reproductive life. Female opossums have two uteri and two vaginal tracts, while the male opossums have a forked or bifurcated penis.

These are all the fantastic facts about opossums that we can share; however, we welcome your contributions and questions. Please leave a comment in the comments section below.

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