Opossum

Many juvenile opossums brought to wildlife rehabilitators are not “true” orphans in need of care. They may be young juveniles on their own for the first time. While they may appear small and helpless, they are best left alone. Only opossums that are sick, injured, or too young to be on their own (less than 7 inches long from nose to rump, not including tail) are in need of immediate asssistance. If a young opossum is found then check the surrounding area. There may be more. Be very quiet and listen for “sneezing” sounds the young make to call the mother.

What is so interesting about opossums?


Opossums are North America’s only marsupial. Their gestation is a short 13 days and the babies are about the size of a honeybee when they are born and look like an embryo. She can give birth to as many as 25 in about five minutes. The babies must then crawl to her pouch. She only has 13 milk-producing nipples so this is the upper limit on the number of young that can survive—average litter sizes are 7 to 9. The young nurse for 70-80 days until they reach the size of a rat—then, they may leave the pouch for short periods but return to nurse. They may hitch a ride on the mother’s body.  They’re on their own at 3 months of age.

 

These, non-aggressive largely nocturnal creatures are omnivorous and will eat almost any kind of available food. They rarely bother poultry. Instead they eat fruits (i.e. persimmons), insects, snails, slugs, eggs, mice, frogs, snakes, carrion, etc. Keep tight fitting lids on garbage cans and pet food containers that are stored outside.

What’s up with ‘possums ‘playing dead’?
Opossums have a very small brain for a mammal. When frightened, they basically pass out—it’s an involuntary response. While “dead,” their body is limp, drool runs from their mouth, and it may appear that rigor mortis has begun. They also produce a smell of decay, which helps discourage many predators from feeding on them while they’re passed out. None of this helps when facing vehicles and opossums are commonly seen as road kill.

 

Fun Facts:

  • Opossums have an opposable thumb on their back feet

  • They have a prehensile tail.

  • Do not be confused by their open-mouthed hissing/drooling defense posture, they very rarely get rabies

  • They are immune to the venom of some snakes.

© 2016 Phoenix Wildlife Center, Inc.

 

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