What is an Opossum?
The Virginia opossum, Didelphis Virginia, is an extremely unique mammal with many distinguishing physical and behavioral attributes. The opossum is the only marsupial (with pouch) located in North America. Distribution is from the east to west coast and their northern range is limited only by severe weather.
This animal is quite shy and inoffensive, but will often hiss and bear its teeth when threatened. The opossum has 50 teeth, which is more than any other mammal in North America. One extraordinary display is "playing possum", which is a defensive strategy against a threat or predator (it plays dead). This act is achieved by rolling over, shutting its eyes, opening its mouth, and going limp; the animal may even hang out its tongue and drool. The definite mechanism behind this is still unknown, but it seems to be a temporary paralysis brought on by shock that can last from a few minutes up to several hours.
Opossums are opportunistic omnivores. Their diet consists primarily of carrion, insects, ticks, amphibians, earthworms, small mammals, vegetables, fruits and berries, while apples and corn are favorites. Rattlesnakes are also a part of their diet, as opossums have an immunity to the deadly snake venom.
Their diet correlates with their lifestyle and behavior. The opossum is an adaptable, nocturnal, solitary animal that wanders in woody and open areas along rural and suburban habitats. They are dependent on others for their homes and cover. The opossum uses abandoned dens or man-made structures, such as woodpiles and decks. Frequently, they are found under decks, crawl spaces, and sheds. They are expert swimmers and climbers, aided by their naked, prehensile tail.
The reproduction of this mammal is unique as well. They have 2-3 litters per year, with an average of seven Range of the Opossum in North America young per litter. The young are about the size of a navy bean when they are born, and will nurse in the mother's pouch for up to 60 days. Opossum populations have a high mortality rate. The influences of the high mortalities are from eating carrion off the highways, and they themselves become road-killed.
Opossum Damage and Concerns
Opossums are often considered nuisance animals. They are found near homes getting into compost piles, garbage, bird feeders and pet food, along with destroying bird nests. Opossums dig around foundations and backyard areas, and may chew or gnaw on woody structures as well. Since the opossum does not build its own den it may become an inhabitant in or under man-made structures.
There are few health concerns with opossums. They are occasional carriers of rabies and fleas, and the ticks they harbor can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Opossums pose little, if any, a significant threat to humans.
A few methods are implemented to control opossums. One technique is prevention of opossum entry by opossum proofing or opossum exclusion. Removing feeding sites such as bird feeder droppings, placing trash in sealed containers, and not leaving pet food outside will have unwanted opossums moving on to other areas.
Another effective technique for opossum control or opossum removal is humanely live-trapping them. A cage trap for opossums is baited with fruits, vegetables or canned cat food.
To successfully manage an opossum population you must have an integrated pest management plan. Critter Control uses more than one approach to eradicate and exclude these nuisance animals from your home and surrounding areas.