While working in a large Animal Shelter, I’d contact with tens of thousands of opossums! Thank goodness, a few years ago the County stopped accepting trapped wildlife so, people had to learn to live peacefully with Opossums.
Lots of people feel that Opossums are aggressive because of their large mouths and 50 sharp teeth! Actually, Opossums are solitary, gentle and placid creatures. They avoid confrontation! Adults are usually very slow moving and will just open their mouth to show their teeth and hiss when frightened. They do not initiate aggression. They’ll retreat whenever possible.
Opossums are actually very beneficial to our areas. 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 quite adaptable and make due with whatever food and water is available. Just about every lawn has Opossums walking around at night. Trust me, they are not a threat to you or your pets.
Mature Opossums are about the size of an adult cat. The tail could be 9″ to 21″ long. They use their thick, prehensile tail to scale and occasionally 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 location. They don’t put much effort into making a home.
The Opossum’s mating season is from February to June. They become adults and begin breeding at @ 1 year old. They can have 1 – 2 litters per season, depending on the climate. The gestation (period 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 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. They are just about 1/4″ long and about the size of a Honey Bee. As soon as they are born, they scoot to the mothers pouch where they latch onto a teat. Once the babies latch on, the teat swells and elongates and they remain there at all times.
The infants 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 are @ 1 year old. The adult males are bigger than the females.
The real truth about”Playing Possum” is probably much different than you thought. When Opossums are extremely frightened, they could enter 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 seem to be dead.
Opossums just live 2 – 4 years. They have a lot of predators! Between individuals, cars, cats, dogs, owls and bigger wildlife, Opossums don’t survive very long.
So, the next time you see one roaming around at night, try to look another way.
They really are not as bad as they seem.