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10 Facts About Opossums

Some of our closest animal neighbors in the United States are marsupial mammals called opossums. They live all over North America, as far north as Canada and as far south as Mexico. While they are mostly a forest-dwelling animal, because humans have encroached further and further into their territory, they have adapted to living close to us. People create piles of food scraps every day, which we pile into trash cans and send to the dump. Some animals, such as opossums, are attracted to human dwellings and restaurants for the easy access to food items. Many people regard opossums with fear or disgust, but they are fascinating animals that are mainly just misunderstood. Here are a few fascinating facts about opossums that might make you look at them a little differently.

Fact #1: Opossums Carry Their Young

Opossums are marsupials, meaning they are mammals that give birth to their young and then carry them in pouches in their bodies, much like kangaroos or koalas. When they’re born, opossums can be as small as honeybees, and the babies spend much of their time in their mother’s pouch until they grow large enough to ride on top of her back without falling off. Opossums can give birth to as many as 20 babies at a time. This may seem excessive, but fewer than half of them will survive to adulthood.

Fact #2: Opossums Are Omnivores

Specifically, opossums are scavengers. They will eat anything they can, including grass, nuts, fruit, birds, insects, worms, snakes, and chickens. They may also eat roadkill if it is available. Because we have so much food in the garbage, opossums are often attracted to human homes or cities. This may seem like dirty behavior, but opossums have adapted to eat whatever is available whenever it is available. This lack of picky behavior has led to their thriving population. This very practice also helps clean up after us.

Fact #3: Their Tails Are Prehensile

Opossums are tree-dwelling creatures, which means they spend a lot of their time in trees and in high locations. Their sharp claws help dig into the bark and keep them stable. Their tail is probably the most distinctive part about them. It is designed to wrap around a branch and hold tight, like an extra limb. Much like monkeys, they can use this tail to keep their balance on the branch while the rest of their limbs are used to forage for food.

Fact #4: They Act Really Well

These dramatic little creatures have developed an excellent way to get other potential predators to leave them alone. If you’ve ever heard of the term “playing possum,” this is in reference to the fact that an opossum will play dead when confronted with dogs, foxes, bobcats, or people. They will flop over onto their sides and close their eyes or stare fixedly into space. They might also extend their tongues. By all points and purposes, they look like dead animals. Because not all animals are scavengers, they tend to avoid dead prey, which could make them sick. Once the predator goes away, the opossum gets back on its feet and goes back on its way. They can remain this way for up to 6 hours.

Fact #5: They’re Nearly Immune to Rabies

While many people might be afraid of contracting rabies from an opossum, they’re more likely to get the disease from a wild dog. Opossums are mostly immune to the disease. While any mammal can get rabies, the chance of it surviving in an opossum is exceedingly rare. Scientists theorize the opossum’s low body temperature, which is about 94 to 97 degrees on average, makes it difficult for the virus to survive in its body.

Fact #6: They’re Mostly Immune to Venom

Opossums have a molecule in their blood, called a peptide, which can neutralize snake venom. This peptide works well against several venomous snake species, including India’s Russell viper and the U.S. western diamondback rattlesnake. Scientists have been using this discovery to attempt to neutralize deaths by snakebite in humans. The World Health Organization has estimated around 94,000 people die every year from snake venom. If opossums can help solve this problem, they can save thousands of lives. They are also immune to honeybee stings, scorpions, and even toxins such as botulism.

Fact #7: They’re Super Smart

While they may not be on par with human intelligence, opossums actually excel in several areas of thinking. They have a remarkable talent for finding food and remembering where they found it later. When tested against other mammals, they scored higher on their ability to remember where food is compared to rats, rabbits, dogs, and cats. They can also navigate a maze faster than cats or rats.

Fact #8: They Give Us Health Perks

While living too close to an opossum can lead to contracting some diseases, if they live in the woods around your house, this could be beneficial. They act like small vacuum cleaners that take care of ticks in wooded and grassy areas, including those that can spread Lyme disease to humans and other animals. Based on lab experiments, scientists estimate that during late summer, when ticks are most abundant, the average opossum could be walking around with roughly 200 ticks on its body. However, the opossums will kill around 4,000 ticks in a week, as they regularly groom themselves and eat the ticks that might be living on them.

Fact #9: They Could Benefit Your Garden

Because they’re mostly up for eating anything, if they forage in your garden, opossums could scarf up plant-eating insects, such as slugs, snails, and other pests. As they also eat berries and other fruit, they can be useful in dispersing seeds around your yard.

Fact #10: The O in Opossum Matters

While sometimes people drop the “o” in opossum, a possum is also the name of a separate marsupial family made up of several species in Australia and New Guinea. So, when referring to the opossum, you could be confusing some people who are used to seeing the possums on the other side of the world.

If you have an opossum family living near your house, or even in your house, don’t fret. Our Houston animal removal experts can help. We can remove the opossum in a safe, efficient, and humane way. We also back our services with a limited lifetime warranty. If you’re concerned about a wild animal near your home or business, let us see how we can help. Our locally owned and operated business has been helping people since 1983. Our technicians are also fully licensed. Contact us at (713) 714-1947 or fill out our online form to schedule your free inspection today.

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