Opossums
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Contrary to popular belief, the Opossum is not a large rodent, it is in fact a marsupial closely related to the Kangaroo. These misunderstood and under appreciated animals are a wonderful addition to any ones garden doing virtually  no damage. Although these creatures may look ferocious, they are incredibly shy and gentle. They provide a great service through out our neighborhood cleaning up carrion, rodents, rotting fruit and vegetables, snails, slugs, cockroaches and a variety of other unwanted garden pests. They do not dig but prefer to be under cover during the day. They do not attack people and will always run away given the chance. They do not eat fruit still growing on trees (that is done by rats) but prefer the over ripe fruit found on the ground.

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Opossums have poor vision which often results in them getting hit by cars and attacked by dogs. Nomadic by nature, they are driven by hunger, never staying in one area for long unless there is a constant food supply. Even then , the Opossum may stay for a few nights, but then usually continues on their foraging route, going from one neighborhood to another.

They live solitary lives until a female becomes pregnant by a wandering male. He will continue to wander after he has done his duty , playing no part in the rearing of the young. The female gives birth to as many as thirteen kidney bean size babies, that crawl up her stomach and into her pouch. The babies will stay in the pouch until they out grow it at which time they will cling onto their mother as she forages for food. The babies will  share whatever their mother finds to eat, but at this age they will drop off and get left behind. Once one the ground, they are on their own. Unlike most mammal mothers, the opossum will not return to retrieve dropped babies. Orphaned babies that are found under 7 inches from the nose to base of the tail, should be brought to a rehabilitator for care, to insure a better chance of survival.

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Opossums coexist peacefully with cats and can sometimes been seen sharing a bowl of food with cats that are fed outside. Unfortunately, dogs do not share the same enthusiasm and will generally attack Opossums that come within range. If you have an Opossum highway in your yard, check your yard at night before you let your dog out. If Opossums are seen, turn on some lights and make some noise to give the Opossums the chance to vacate.

Because of their low body temperature, Opossums do not normally harbor the disease that other wildlife may carry , such as , distemper, parvo, FIV and rabies

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When approached, Opossums will open their large mouths, usually dripping with saliva and show their teeth. This be accompanied by a soft growl or hiss. If that doesnt ward off potentail danger,their next step may be to "play posssum". They lay on the ground, their breathing can become undetectable ,they secrete a green pungent mucus from their anal region and become as stiff as a board. This behavior is to fool a predator into believing that they are already dead and to stop the attack. Opossums that are playing dead should be left in a quiet area with a clear escape route without the disturbance of animals or people.

To avoid harming Opossums

  • Do not poison rodents as Opossums will eat them.
  • Ferral cat traps should be checked frequently for Opossums. They will tear themselves apart trying to get out, sustaining severe jaw injuries as well as injured feet. They should be released at dusk, to avoid disorientation.
  • Opossums trapped in a garage can be lured out at night with a trail of cat kibble. Close the door after the animal has vacated.
  • Move dead Opossums to the side of the road to avoid other wildlife from being killed. Then check to see if there are babies in the pouch. Remove all babies from the mother even if they are still attached to the nipples. Place in a container with a source of heat such as a rice filled sock. Fill a sock with 2 cups of rice and zap for 1 minute. Lay the babies next to the warm sock with enough room to move away if it gets too hot. Do not try to feed them. Call a rehabber for instructions.
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If you encounter an injured Opossum, and need to pick it up, use one hand to grasp the base of the   tail, while sliding your other hand underneath the belly for the Opossum to grasp like a branch. Your hand can support the front portion of the animal between its front legs. Never grab an Opossum from above, around the neck or back as it will respond as if you are a predator. A towel can be used to gently slide an Opossum into a box but don't leave them there for too long as they will eventually chew their way out. 

Opossum Babies

Orphaned baby Opossums that do not have at least 1/3 of an inch of fur, need an additional source of heat until they are brought to a rehabber. After wrapping them in a towel or cloth, place them in a container that is sitting on a heating pad set on low. Check the babies in half an hour to see if they are warm to the touch. Make sure your hands are warm when you do this. Do not try to feed them as they may be dehydrated from being without food for sometime. If you try to feed an animal that is cold, you run the risk of killing it. Keeping them warm is all you should do until you speak to a rehabber for further instructions. If you do not have a heating pad, use a sock filled with 2 cups of dry rice, that has been micro waved for at least a minute. Put it under the towel and place the babies next to it making sure there is enough room for them to move away if it gets too hot. You can also use a  zip lock bag  filled with hot water but take care not to let the water get cold as it will deplete warmth from the babies.

Copyright © 2004 Nicky Thole/Karin Beer-Koller
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. For viewing purposes only. Downloading for commercial use will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.