Opossums…Not That Bad After All!

Lots of individuals think that opossums are aggressive because of their large mouths and 50 sharp teeth! In fact, opossums are solitary, gentle and placid creatures. They avoid confrontation! Adults are normally quite slow moving and will only open their mouth to show their teeth and hiss when fearful. They do not initiate aggression. They will retreat whenever possible.

Opossums are actually quite beneficial to our neighborhoods. They’re omnivores, so they eat both meat and vegetation. They are essentially scavengers, cleaning up the rotten fruit and debris in our yards, in addition to carrion road kill, etc. They will eat insects, snails, slugs, worms, berries, nuts, grass, leaves and pet food. They are very adaptable and make due with whatever food and water is available. Pretty much every yard has opossums walking around at night. Trust me, they’re not a threat to you or your pets.

Mature opossums are about the size of an adult cat. Their body is @ 13″ to 20″ long. The tail could be 9″ to 21″ long. They use their thick, prehensile tail to climb and sometimes to carry leaves, etc.. Opossums can live in trees and the adults can hang by their tails while they sleep. Opossums will make a den in any dark, quiet location. They do not put much effort into creating a home.

Opossums are North America’s only marsupial mammal (female that has a pouch for carrying her young). They’re also nocturnal (sleep during the day and active at night).

The Opossum’s mating season is from February to June. They become adults and start breeding at 1 year old. They could have 1 – 2 litters per season, depending on the climate. The gestation (period from conception to birth) is just 12 – 14 days. The mother has 13 teats and that’s the maximum number of infants she can nurse. Usually, 13 babies won’t make it in the pouch and of the ones that do, only about 3 to 6 will make it to weaning age. The infants are born undeveloped embryos. They’re only about 1/4″ long and about the size of a Honey Bee. After they are born, they scoot to the mother’s pouch where they latch onto a teat. Once the babies latch on, the teat swells and elongates and they remain there constantly.

The babies are weaned at 2 to 3 months old and are considered juveniles. They become independent of their mother when they are 6 – 12 months old and about 7″ to 10″ long. They become breeding adults whenever they are 1 year old. The adult males are larger than the females.

When opossums are extremely frightened, they can go into an involuntary “shock – like” or “fainting state.” This unconscious state can last from 40 minutes to 4 hours. They first awaken by wiggling their ears.

When they are unconscious, they usually have an open mouth and appear to be dead.

Opossums just live 2 – 4 years. They have a lot of predators! Between humans, cars, dogs, cats, owls and larger wildlife, opossums do not survive very long.

So, the next time you see one roaming around at night, try and look the other way.
They really aren’t as bad as they seem.

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