Opossum or possum, however you pronounce it, we’re talking about one cool marsupial. Prehensile tails and opposable thumbs equip them for skillful climbing. They help rid our lawns and woodlands of grubs, ticks and other damaging insects, clean our roadsides of disease-spreading carrion, and they make great parents, to boot. Read on for more cool facts about our neighbors, Didelphis virginiana, whose origins trace back more than 65 million years!
- The only marsupial (pouched mammal) in North America
- Male opossums are called jacks and females are called jills. Babies are called joeys.
- ‘Playing possum’ is a real defense used to confuse a possible predator.
What do they look like?
- Up to 30 inches long and weigh about 15 pounds
- Cone shaped nose with a pink tip, hairless ears, short legs and a long hair-less tail.
- Fur color is variable from pale gray to black.
What do they eat?
Opossums are omnivores who eat primarily animal matter such as insects, earthworms, small mammals, snakes, birds, fruits and vegetables. They are also amazingly immune to snake venom, so rattlesnakes and cottonmouths make the menu too. If available, they will dine on pet food, garbage cans and bird feeders.
What eats them?
- Predators include owls, coyotes, hawks, snakes, foxes and feral cats.
- An estimated 19 million opossums are killed by vehicles every year in the United States.
Why do we need them?
Opossums are extremely beneficial to the environment. They eat a variety of critters considered pests or vermin by clearing your yard of roaches, mice and rats. In one season an opossum can consume about 5,000 ticks, helping minimize tick-borne diseases such Lyme disease. Also known to eat carrion which minimizes disease in the environment.
Interested in learning more about local wildlife? Check out these past articles: