The opossum might be snarly and a little bit scraggly, but this nocturnal animal deserves our admiration.
Okay, so they are ugly, creep you out, and get into your garbage.
Opossums have one very favorable trait: they eat ticks, up to 4,000 in a week, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
That’s a very useful eating habit in places like Pennsylvania, which leads the nation to Lyme disease. Deer ticks are the number one carrier of the disease.
And if you live in North America, you’ve probably seen a Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana). Maybe dead on the road or alive on your porch eating cat food in the middle of the night, but in either case, you might have thought, “Gross, it’s a possum!”
Opossums are famous for “playing dead.” Their trick is so common that the American Museum of Natural History wrote a Twitter post about the animal and even proclaimed it as in the running for an Oscar.
“Few compare to this marsupial when it comes to ‘playing dead,’” the museum wrote. “When under threat, it’ll fall on its side, curl its body, & may supplement the act with open-mouth drooling & an excretion of feces in hopes of deterring hungry predators.”
Opossums are quirky creatures, and they’re quite clever. If you thought raccoons were crafty, then you haven’t seen anything yet. They’re nocturnal animals, so you won’t see one sniffing around in the middle of the day.
For one thing, opossums do not carry rabies, and they cannot get infected. The reason for this is that their immune systems are strong, and their body temperature stays low, making their bodies inhospitable for rabies. In fact, they’re eight times less likely to become infected than most other animals running around your backyard.
Opossums are excellent climbers, and if you have tree branches hanging over your home, they can easily get from a tree to your attic without much hassle.
To a hungry opossum, just about anything looks like a meal. Opossums are known for eating:
- Snakes, insects, slugs, mice, fish, rats, crayfish, and snails
- Fruits and eggs
- Bird seed and pet food
All things considered, there’s very little that an opossum won’t eat. Because of their strong immune systems, opossums can eat poisonous snakes such as cottonmouths and rattlesnakes. Their mouths have over 50 teeth, so they’re able to tear apart their food.
Opossums mate all year round unlike other wildlife, and they can have up to 25 babies at a time. Opossums are marsupials, which means the mother carries her babies in a pouch on the underside of her belly to keep them warm and fed. These babies are called Joeys. When they’re small, Joeys live inside their mother’s pouch, but when they get older, you might see them riding on their mother’s back.
Overall, you don’t have to be afraid of opossums. They’re not going to try to hurt or bother you and will only start growling or hissing when they feel threatened. If you do try to attack them, they will show their teeth and start to growl and hiss.
In Houston, however, opossums are used to having humans around them, so for the most part, they’ll leave you alone if you do the same.
So look beyond the beady eyes next time you have a run-in with Houston’s humble helper. Better yet, leave a little fruit out to create your very own backyard possum patrol. Even if you don’t, they’ll still be around, eating mosquitoes and saving your skin, no matter what you think of their creepy little rat tails.
Watch the video below for more details: