North America's only marsupial! The opossum is a shy animal with a unstable disposition.
Opossums are usually solitary and nomadic, staying in one area as long as food and water are easily available. Some families will group together in ready-made burrows or even under houses. Though they will temporarily occupy abandoned burrows, they do not dig or put much effort into building their own. As nocturnal animals, they favor dark, secure areas. These areas may be below ground or above.
Opossums have a spectacular immune system, and a lower than average body temperature. This means that they don't carry a whole lot of the standard zoonotic diseases that other animals might carry. Although an opossum might get rabies, it's very unlikely. However, opossums do often carry fleas and other parasites, and the potential diseases that go along with those. They also defecate, a lot, and when they get in your attic the droppings can contaminate the area and pose the usual excrement health risks, such as leptospirosis or Salmonella.
The opossum has 50 very sharp teeth in its mouth, and although it does prefer to be left alone or to play dead, some will choose fight before flight or faking death. Threatened opossums (especially males) will growl deeply, raising their pitch as the threat becomes more urgent. Males make a clicking "smack" noise out of the side of their mouths as they wander in search of a mate, and females will sometimes repeat the sound in return. When separated or distressed, baby opossums will make a sneezing noise to signal their mother. If threatened, the baby will open its mouth and quietly hiss until the threat is gone. Hissing or squawking is a defensive process that helps the opossum keep unwanted guests from bothering them.
When threatened or harmed, they will "play possum", mimicking the appearance and smell of a sick or dead animal. When playing possum, the lips are drawn back, teeth are bared, saliva foams around the mouth, and a foul-smelling fluid is secreted from the anal gland. The physiological response is involuntary, rather than a conscious act. Some times baby opossum's brains do not react therefore they do not "play dead". Their stiff, curled form can be prodded, turned over, and even carried away. The animal will regain consciousness after a period of minutes or hours and escape.
Opossums are the only marsupial in North America. They have a fur-lined pouch, and a prehensile, flesh-colored or whitish tail. The fur is grayish-white. Males average six to seven pounds, up to 14 pounds, while females are smaller. Total lengths range up to 36 inches. Opossums are nocturnal and known for the habit of “playing dead” when threatened. They are strong climbers and swimmers.
Originally opossums were restricted to the southeast U.S., but spread widely due to human activity after European settlement. They are now found throughout the eastern U.S. and on the west coast. Habitats include deciduous woodlands near water, but they are also suburban pests. Opossums make leaf nests in hollow logs, fallen trees, or abandoned burrows. Home ranges are small from 10 to 200 acres.
Opossums are omnivorous, eating nearly any plant, animal, insect, or carrion. Their diet mainly consists of dead meat or "carrion" and many individual opossums are killed on the highway when scavenging for roadkill to eat. They are also known to eat insects, frogs, birds, snakes, small mammals, and earthworms. Some of their favorite foods are fruits. Their broad diet allows them to take advantage of many sources of food provided by human habitation such as unsecured food waste (garbage) and pet food.Coyotes, fox, raccoons, bobcats, eagles, snakes, hawks, and owls prey on opossums.
Most breeding occurs in February and litters have five to 13 young, which stay in the pouch for 60 days. Opossums are sexually mature at six to eight months.