Opossums are interesting-looking creatures. A lot of people call them "funny-looking." Others consider that to be too kind a description. Truth be told, they look like an animal designed by a committee.
'Possums have long, rat-like, prehensile tails; round ears like a mouse; a snout like a dog, long jaws with a very full set of teeth (more, in fact, than any other North American mammal); hind feet with an opposable toe; and front paws whose prints look almost as if they were made by a tiny human. They also have very narrow heads and small brains for their size, and a lower body temperature than most mammals.
Opossums are also the only marsupial native to the United States. Like other marsupials, female opossums carry and nurse their young in a pouch called the marsupium. The young are extremely immature when they are born, and they would not be likely to survive outside the marsupium. They spend at least two months there after birth.
A lot of people are afraid of opossums because they do look right threatening when they snarl at you. They don't usually attack humans, even in self-defense; but they're rather neurotic and unpredictable animals with a lot of teeth, so you're probably best off not tempting them.
That being said, opossums are more likely to "play possum," which actually is an involuntary state similar to a coma, when they feel threatened. In this state, the actually manage to convince larger prey animals that the opossum is dead, partially by emitting a foul-smelling odor. This apparently is a turn-off to animals who like feeding on live food.
Opossums are nocturnal animals whose nightly routine consists of foraging for food. They'll eat pretty much anything, including pet food, scraps and leftovers in garbage cans, barbecue drippings, insects, slugs, amphibians, earthworms, the occasional snake or bird, plants, seeds, nuts, and fruits. They're primarily carrion eaters, however, who prowl the roads for road kill -- often becoming road kill themselves in the process.
In nature, opossums rarely live more than two years. They age very quickly, and even in captivity where they are protected from predators, they rarely live to more than three or four years of age.
Like many nuisance animals, opossums are basically harmless and only become an annoyance when they get into homes, garages, or other buildings. Most often, when they enter buildings, they're following the scent of food (very often pet food), so not feeding your pets or storing pet food in places like garages or sheds is one way to reduce 'possum problems.
Once they do get inside, they make a mess. They're very messy eaters and very messy animals in general. They're also easily started, very unpredictable, and very ungrateful, not hesitating to bite the hand that feeds them when approached by well-meaning humans. They also annoy pet dogs and cats, and sometimes get into confrontations with them.
Opossums are also very filthy animals with extremely poor hygiene habits. Although transmission of diseases from opossums to human is rare, that's mainly because contact between opossums and humans is rare. Opossums can also be carriers of some diseases that don't affect them seriously (possibly because of their low body temperatures), but which can make humans and other species of animals sick.
'Possums can also make themselves unwelcome when they help themselves to garden crops. They're especially fond of fruits and squash, but will eat almost anything. They also will tear up your garbage looking for food, but this can be prevented by using animal-resistant garbage cans.
'Possum control consists of habitat modification (mainly removing the things that are attracting the opossums to your home, especially food), trapping and removal, and exclusion ("'possum-proofing").
When opossums decide to move in to a human home, they usually choose the crawl space or that nice cozy spot under the porch or steps; but opossums are superb climbers, and can get into a home anywhere from top to bottom if they set their little minds to it. Opossum exclusion is therefore similar to raccoon exclusion in that the entire house needs to be looked at, and any potential entry points sealed.
Here are a few pictures of opossums we've met in and around the Birmingham area. More are on the way!
Rid-A-Critter provides complete possum removal services, as well as possum exclusion and general animal-proofing, in Birmingham and throughout our Alabama service area. For more information any of our quality services, please call us today.