While working in a large Animal Shelter, I had contact with thousands of opossums! Thank goodness, a few years ago the County stopped accepting trapped wildlife so, people had to learn how to live peacefully with Opossums.
Many people think that Opossums are aggressive due to their big mouths and 50 sharp teeth! Actually, Opossums are solitary, gentle and placid creatures. Adults are normally very slow moving and will just open their mouth to show their teeth and hiss when frightened. They don’t initiate aggression. They’ll retreat whenever possible.
Opossums are actually very beneficial to our areas. They are omnivores, so that they eat both meat and vegetation. They are essentially scavengers, cleaning up the rotten fruit and debris in our yards, in addition to 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 lawn 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 but, the adults can not hang by their tails while they sleep. Opossums will make a den in any dark, quiet place. They do not put much effort into creating a house.
Opossums are North America’s only marsupial mammal (female that has a pouch for carrying her young).
The Opossum’s breeding season is from February to June. They become adults and begin breeding at @ 1 year old. They could have 1 – 2 litters per season, depending upon the climate. The gestation (time from conception to birth) is just 12 – 14 days. The mother has 13 teats and that is the maximum number of infants she can nurse. Usually, 13 babies will not make it into 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 mothers pouch where they latch onto a teat. After the babies latch on, the teat swells and elongates and they remain there at all times.
The babies are weaned at 2 to 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’re @ 1 year old. The adult males are bigger than the females.
When Opossums are really 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 normally have an open mouth and appear to be dead.
Opossums just live 2 – 4 years. They have a lot of predators! Between individuals, cars, cats, dogs, owls and larger wildlife, Opossums don’t survive very long.
So, the next time you see one roaming around at night, try to look the other way.
They really are not as bad as they seem.