Fall in Love with a Possum | Nature’s Clean Up Crew
You’ll fall in love with Possums after reading this and seeing my amazing photos of these incredible little animals!
Have you ever seen a Possum? Would you know one if you saw one? What would you do if you came upon one in your yard? Is it pronounced Opossum or Possum? Both are correct- it’s just a matter of personal preference. I’d be willing to bet that one or more of these critters has visited your yard at some point and you didn’t even know it.
Let’s clear up one common misconception right away…
Possums are not rats! I repeat- Possums are NOT rats. Possums are marsupials! They are North Americas only marsupial, meaning they have a pouch to carry their babies in after they are born. When baby possums are born, they are only about the size of a bee; they crawl up into their mother’s pouch, live and nurse in her warmth for about two months. Kangaroos and Wallabies, Koala Bears, Wombats and Tasmanian Devils are also marsupials, however, these guys live mostly in Australia and the surrounding islands. Once they are about two months old, they ride on Mom’s back as she travels around in search of food.
Another important fact about Possums is that they are nocturnal- this means that they are more active at night than during the day. Possums usually sleep during the daytime in a den, an abandoned burrow or even a hollow tree. They come out to eat in the early evening and throughout the night. Possums have special eyes that help them see in the dark. There are actually a large number of nocturnal animals, but the most common ones include skunks, raccoons, bats, chinchillas, sugar gliders, owls, hyenas, red foxes, hamsters, porcupines, cockroaches, fireflies and many more.
The Virginia Opossum (its official name), when fully grown is about the size of a house cat, approximately 2 1/2 feet (76 cm) long, including its tail. The tail alone is about 12 inches (30 cm) long and is hairless and scaly. It is called a prehensile tail and it is used for grasping and balancing, not for hanging or sleeping upside down. Possums have blackish-gray fur with a white face. They have short legs with pink, clawed feet. Each foot has five toes and the big toe on the rear feet is clawless and opposable, meaning they can use it pretty much like we use our thumbs. Their front paws are used to grasp food much like a raccoon. They have a pointed snout with a cute little pink nose and whiskers that help them see in the dark. Ears are big, black and leathery with white tips and are hairless.
Possums are omnivores- meaning they eat both plants and animals. Their diet consists of mice, lizards, earthworms, snails, spiders, snakes, fruit, nuts, seeds, and carrion (dead animals or roadkill). They are considered a “gardeners friend” as they eat the fallen, rotting fruit from the trees in your yard and the unwanted pests in our yard. Just one possum can eat up to 5000 ticks a year, helping to protect humans from Lyme disease. They are quite literally Nature’s Little Clean-up Crew!
Possums rarely ever carry rabies! Their body temperature is too low at 94-97 degrees Fahrenheit (34-36 degrees Celcius) for the virus to survive. Any animal can get rabies, but it is extremely rare in possums. Another interesting tidbit is that possums are said to be immune to snake venom! Studies were done in the 1940’s and again in the 90’s showed that a molecule in their blood called a peptide can actually neutralize some snake venom. It’s possible that one-day possums could help save people from snake bites- I’m all for this so long as no possums are harmed in doing so!
I remember seeing possums as a kid and was super excited the night we finally saw one walk through our backyard this past September. We had been watching some raccoons, skunks, deer and a groundhog and decided to install a Nest Cam Outdoor security camera in the backyard to see just what kind of critters visited us while we slept. I’m so glad we did because we found out that we had two young possums that couldn’t have been much more than 2-3 months old. They were just the cutest little things! I instantly fell in love with them and of course, named them- Rudy is the smaller one and Ralphie is the bigger one.
We also found out that we had a total of four skunks- yes, I named them too- They each have different markings so they were easy to tell apart. There is Harriet, Dorothy, Missy and Sissy. Rudy and Dorothy became good friends as time went on and would regularly dine together. We watched as four raccoons visited and usually took turns with the skunks and possums. At times we had skunks, raccoons and possums all dining together and just hanging out, minding their own business, for the most part.
There were a couple times that the littlest possum, being a playful little pup, would sneak up on the skunks and scare them, but that’s another story. Just know that skunks get a bad rap as far as attacking and spraying goes- they are quite docile and even when provoked, do not spray unless they feel extremely threatened or they have babies. Our camera is proof of that.
Possums have 50 little teeth in their mouths and use them for eating and looking scary. They are not aggressive and will run most times before they confront you or your pets. When they feel threatened and cannot escape, they will play “possum” and pretend that they are dead. They will only bite in self-defense, as any animal would.
We are so attached to our possums and put food out for them every night. They totally LOVE peanut butter and peanuts, both in the shell and out. Grapes and cut up apples are a couple more of their favorites. I was very worried about them lately, with the extremely cold weather we’ve been having; we hadn’t seen them for about 3 weeks. The last couple days have warmed up a bit and one of the possums returned for his nightly snacks. I received a real treat tonight as I was writing this when both possums showed up at the same time and stood side-by-side, enjoying their peanut butter.
I hope the information, photos and videos in this post have changed your mind about possums and helped you to become a fan of them. They mean you no harm- just ignore them or sit back and enjoy their presence. Please do not hurt them, poison them or kill them. Be careful when driving as they sometimes wander into the road and cannot get out of the way quickly. If you accidentally hit a possum with your car, please stop and see if it is alive or has babies in its pouch. I will tell you what to do in another post if you find an injured possum or a deceased momma with babies and how to help.
Thank you for visiting and if you want more information on possums, please visit the Opossum Society of the United States. They are a wonderful organization that provides for the care and treatment of injured and orphaned wild possums and their release back into the wild and educates the public about the misunderstood possum and the benefits the possum provides.
As usual, keep those feeders filled and watch out for backyard wildlife. Happy Birding~ Karen