While working in a large Animal Shelter, I had contact with tens of thousands of opossums! Most had been hit by cars, attacked and injured by dogs or caught in traps by residents and picked up by our Animal Control Officers. Thank goodness, a couple of years ago the County ceased accepting trapped wildlife so, people had to learn to live peacefully with Opossums.
Lots of people think that Opossums are aggressive due to their large mouths and 50 sharp teeth! In fact, Opossums are solitary, gentle and placid creatures. Adults are normally quite slow moving and will only open their mouth to show their teeth and hiss when fearful. They don’t initiate aggression. They will retreat whenever possible.
Opossums are actually quite beneficial to our neighborhoods. They’re omnivores, so that they eat both meat and vegetation. They are basically scavengers, cleaning up the rotten fruit and debris in our yards, as well as carrion (dead 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 are not a threat to you or your pets.
The tail could be 9″ to 21″ long. They use their thick, prehensile tail to climb and occasionally to carry leaves, etc.. Opossums can live in trees however, the adults can’t hang by their tails while they sleep. They do not put much effort into making a home.
Opossums are North America’s only marsupial mammal (female which 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 begin mating at @ 1 year old. They can have 1 – 2 litters per season, depending upon 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 babies she can nurse. Usually, 13 babies won’t make it in the pouch and of those that do, only about 3 to 6 will make it to weaning age. The infants are born undeveloped embryos. As soon as they are born, they scoot into the mothers pouch where they latch onto a teat. After the babies latch on, the teat swells and elongates and they remain there constantly. At 1 to 2 months old they will move in and out of the pouch and cling to the moms fur on her back while she travels around.
The babies are weaned at 2-3 months old and are considered juveniles. They become independent of the mother when they’re 6 – 12 months old and about 7″ to 10″ long. They become mating adults when they are @ 1 year old. The adult males are bigger than the females.
The actual truth about”Playing Possum” is probably much different than you thought. When Opossums are extremely frightened, they could go into an involuntary”shock – like” or”fainting state.” They first wake up by wiggling their ears.
When they are unconscious, they usually have an open mouth and seem to be dead.
Opossums only live 2 – 4 years. They’ve a lot of predators! Between humans, cars, cats, dogs, owls and larger wildlife, Opossums do not survive very long.
So, the next time you see one roaming around at night, try to look another way.
They really aren’t as bad as they seem.
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