For one reason or another, opossums have gotten a pretty bad reputation as filthy, rabies-ridden creatures that we should fear. This perception couldn’t be farther from the truth! Read on to learn about the Virginia opossum and why it should earn your love.
1) Kangaroo Cousins
As the only marsupials in North America, these amazing creatures have pouches just like koalas or kangaroos. Mothers will raise up to 10 babies or “joeys” in their pouches at one time for two to three months. As the joeys get older, they start to explore outside the pouch and will ride around on mom’s back. Can you imagine giving a piggy-back ride to 10 children? Opossum mothers are incredible.
2) Pest Vacuum Cleaners
Opossums are like pest vacuum cleaners. One opossum can eat up to 4,000 ticks a week! They also eat a lot of creepy-crawlies, like snails and slugs, that may be chewing up your garden. Welcoming an opossum to your backyard means that you will have a free, zero-effort tick defense program in place.
3) Natural Landscapers
These creatures won’t dig up your garden; instead, they will eat overripe fruit that falls to the ground and make a stink. They’ll also eat the beetles and bugs that might be chewing up your plants! Why pay a landscaper to clean your yard when you could invite an opossum to do the job for free?
4) Incredible Immune Systems
Many people fear opossums because they are rumored to carry rabies. While it is true that there is a small chance that opossums can carry rabies, they are eight times less likely to have rabies than other wild animal. You should be less worried about an opossum in your yard than the 20 squirrels that probably already live there.
5) Resistant to Snake Venom
Opossums are resistant to rattlesnake and copperhead bites. They have something called a “Lethal Toxin Neutralizing Factor,” or LTNF. Rats injected with LTNF are also immune to botulism and ricin. This factor seems to be effective across several snake species and is now being synthetically made to make antivenin, which is great news for both us and our opossums!
6) Quiet Neighbors
If startled, the opossum will “freeze” or “play dead,” essentially entering a catatonic state for a few minutes or up to four hours. Its eyes stay open, the body stiffens up, and the animal falls over; sometimes it might foam at the mouth and release a foul smell. This is all part of its way of convincing predators that their next meal should be elsewhere. If you see an opossum enter this state, take the hint and leave it be. It will wake up in no time and make its way out of your yard.
7) Phenomenal Prehensile Tails
Just like monkeys, opossums have prehensile tails that can wrap around branches, grip them, act as a balancing tool, and support the opossum while it climbs. These amazing tails are strong enough to help an opossum dangle from a branch by just their tail! Sometimes they will use their tail to grip nesting material to make a cozy home. Unfortunately, the exposed skin on their tails often succumbs to frostbite. If you ever see an opossum with a black or charred-looking tail end, it likely is the result of frostbite.
8) Amazing Pupils
An opossum’s eyes aren’t all black. We only see a strongly dilated pupil when we look at these fuzzy creatures. These large pupils help our friends see in the dark, as they are mostly nocturnal creatures.
As amazing as opossums are, they have a lot going up against them. Opossums generally live only 2-4 years, as they have several natural predators. Humans aren’t helping the matter—opossums are frequent roadkill victims and are quickly losing their homes to human development. Rather than shooing away these incredible creatures, try to learn how to live in a space that was theirs to start with. Make sure to close your doors, keep your trash sealed, and watch your pets when they are outside. If you notice an opossum hanging out in your area more than you want, don’t fear! They aren’t territorial and will probably move on soon.
Hopefully you learned a thing or two about these furry friends! Please come out and observe our four opossum friends, including Blossom the Opossum, at our bird feeders any day of the week. Let us know if you spot one in your yard or local preserve, too.