General Opossum Information

Despite the opossums appearance is not related to the rat. The opossum is a marsupial, or “pouched” mammal, and is therefore related to other marsupials such as the kangaroo. Like kangaroos, infant opossums stay inside the mother’s pouch to nurse and develop. The opossum is North Americas’s only marsupial.

Opossums are born after a13 day gestation period. The embryonic-looking infants are so small at birth that 20 could fit into a teaspoon. As they grow the juveniles then ride on the mother’s back until they are old enough to go out on their own.

The opossum has an average lifespan of 1 to 3 years. This short lifespan is due in part to the presence of many predators. Sometimes the opossum is able to escape death by “playing ‘possum”, and in so doing the predator may lose interest in the apparently dead animal and not eat it. The name “opossum” is derived from an Algonquian Indian word “apasum”, and apasum means white animal. While there are over 65 species of opossums, only one, the Didelphis virginiana, known as the Virginia opossum, is native to North America. Didelphis means double womb. Didelphis refers to the pouch as a secondary place of development for the baby opossums. Virginiana refers to the state of Virginia where the opossum or apasum was first observed by early English colonists. However, opossums today can be found throughout most of the United States and portions of Canada, Mexico and is now showing up in some other counties as well.

The opossum has many awesome features. It has 50 teeth, the opossum has more teeth than any other North American land mammal. Its hairless tail is prehensile and is used for grasping branches, hanging on to trees, balancing and carrying nesting material. The opossum does not hang upside down by the tail. The opossum also has opposable thumbs on its hind feet for holding onto branches and balancing.

Whether urban or suburban, opossums are a benefit to any area they inhabit. Their diet includes all types of bugs and insects. They also eat rodents. The nocturnal opossum is attracted to our neighborhoods by the availability of water, dog food left out at night and rotting fruit that has fallen from trees.

Facts About Opossums

Opossums are tough creatures, they can endure a lot of hardship and have some surprising abilities:

  • Natural immunity: Mostly immune to rabies, and in fact, they are eight times less likely to carry rabies compared to Wild Dogs or Raccoons.
  • Poison control: Opossums have immunity against snakes. They have partial or total immunity to the venom produced by rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, copperheads and other pit vipers.
  • Omnivores galore: Their normal diet consists of decaying flesh of dead animals, rodents, insects, snails, slugs, birds, eggs, frogs, plants, fruits and grains. They also eat all kinds of human food, table scraps, dog food and cat food. They have an unusually high need for calcium, which urges them to eat the skeletons of rodents and road kill. They're the sanitation workers of wildlife.
  • Smart wildlife: Although many people think opossums are not very sharp, there are several areas of intelligence in which they soar. For one, they have a remarkable ability to find food and to remember the location of the food. When tested for the ability to remember where food is, opossums scored better than rats, rabbits, cats, dogs, raccoons and squirrels … but not as well as humans.
  • Pest control: Opossums also keep rodents and roaches at bay by competing with them for food. In fact, it’s common for opossums to kill roaches and rats if they find them in their territory where they are feeding.
  • All thumbs: The opossum has opposable thumbs. The opossum's thumbs are on its rear feet so technically they are toes.
  • Impressive tails: They have prehensile tails which are adapted for grasping and wrapping around tree limbs. The opossum can hang from its tail for short periods of time. Opossums have been observed carrying bundles of grass sod and other materials by looping their tail around them; this conscious control leads many to consider the tail as a fifth appendage.
  • Good pupils: The eyes of the opossum appear solid black, but what we are seeing are strongly dilated pupil; there is iris around their eye, it’s just mostly out of sight.
  • Smile! : The mouth of an opossum holds an impressive 50 teeth.
  • Natural defenses: When threatened, opossums run, jump, growl, belch, urinate and defecate. And when all else fails, they “play possum" and act dead. It is an involuntary response rather than a conscious act. They roll over, stiffen out, close their eyes and bare their teeth as saliva foams around the mouth and a foul-smelling fluid is secreted from glands. The catatonic state can last for up to four hours or more, and has proven to be very effective.
  • Male opossums are called jacks.
  • Females opossums are called jills.
  • The young opossums are referred to as joeys, just like their Australian cousins, and a group of opossums is called a passel.

Some Diseases directly transmitted by opossums

  • Rabies
  • Leptospirosis
  • Tuberculosis
  • Relapsing fever
  • Tularemia
  • Spotted fever
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Coccidiosis
  • Trichomoniasis


Opossums eat and contaminate food and animal feed. They also damage containers and packaging materials in which foods and feed are stored. The opossum species cause problems by gnawing on electrical wires and wooden structures such as siding, ledges, corners, and wall material, and they also destroy insulation in walls and ceilings for nesting.

Insulation is the first target of a opossum infestation. Opossums use the fibers to build nests and create pathways throughout the attic and walls. Ultimately, this results in your home’s insulation losing much of its functionality. If your heating bills seem to go up a bit more than you would expect every year, this may well be the problem.

Opossums are also a major problem for health reasons. They will defecate and urinate all over the attic & in walls. This introduces parasites, bacteria and other nasty microscopic creatures to the interior environment of your home.

Most homeowners can’t imagine a time when an opossum would break into their home. Although this may seem like an unusual scenario, there are insurance policies that cover damage caused by marsupials. While the majority of people picture a kangaroo when thinking of a “marsupial,” opossums are also considered marsupials and are much more likely to damage a home in Texas. It is fairly common for a family of opossums to build their nest in an attic and this can result in very serious and costly marsupial damage.

Insurance companies may try to avoid covering damage caused by opossums by citing a rodent exclusion in the policy, hoping that a homeowner won’t know the difference between rodents, vermin and marsupials. A bit of zoology/biology comes in handy here!

So while it is very unlikely that a kangaroo will bounce into your home or business and wreak havoc, opossums sometimes do.

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