With their ringed tails, pointed snouts, and threatening teeth, opossums are often feared. They can become quite a nuisance if they move into your shed or garage or if they decide to raise a family in a tree in your yard. However, opossums are not as fearsome as many homeowners assume, especially once you learn a little more about them.
1. There Are at Least 103 Species of Opossums
Opossum species fall into 19 different genera. They all share certain characteristics. For instance, all types of opossums are about the size of a small cat. They have long snouts, a narrow braincase, and prehensile tails, which they can use to grasp branches and other objects.
The most common type of opossum is the Virginia opossum, also known as the North American opossum. This variety is medium-gray in color with a white face, black ears and feet, and a pink nose. In spite of its name, the Virginia opossum is actually found throughout Central and North America.
2. Opossums Don't Carry Rabies
When many homeowners see an opossum in their yard, they fear that their dog or cat may contract rabies from the animal. However, opossums are resistant to rabies and do not carry the disease.
Opossums do, however, carry a disease called Equine Protozoal Myoencephalitis, or EPM, which affects horses. Opossums are a host to the protozoans that cause this neurological disease. If a horse eats feed that has been contaminated with the feces of an affected opossum, the horse may become ill.
Opossums also carry fleas, which can cause a number of diseases in dogs and cats - so you should still keep your pets away from opossums, even though you don't have to fear rabies.
3. Opossums Are Omnivores
Few animals eat as varied a diet as the opossum. They will feed on small mice and other rodents, snails, frogs, vegetables, nuts, pet food, and leftovers they find in your trash can. They're able to bite and chew this food with their 50 pointed teeth. If you make an opossum feel threatened, they may expose these teeth. However, they rarely bite - displaying their teeth is an empty threat.
4. Opossums Have a Unique Reproductive Cycle
Opossums are marsupials, which means that they give birth to their young after a very short gestation period and then continue to raise those young in a pouch on the exterior of their bodies.
A female opossum may give birth to as many as 20 tiny opossums at once. The baby opossums are basically embryos at this point; they crawl across the mother's fur and into a pouch on her abdomen. Each tiny opossum latches onto a teat. Often, a mother will have more young opossums than she has teats, and those that don't find a teat die.
Baby opossums remain in their mother's pouch for about 2.5 months. Once they emerge, their eyes are open, and they are able to begin learning to hunt and survive.
5. Opossums Were Named by Early European Settlers
The name opossum comes from a Native American word, wapathemwa, which means white animal. John Smith used the word opossum in his records in the early 1600s. In some regions, opossums are now known simply as possums. Opossums and possums are the same animal - the latter is just a simplified version of the name.
If you see the occasional opossum in the woods or near your yard, you have no real reason to be concerned. They're relatively harmless and a part of the natural ecosystem. However, if you suspect that these marsupials may be nesting in your buildings or landscaping, you should contact a pest control company to come take action.
Beebe's Pest & Termite will come trap and remove the opossums, keeping you and your pets safe. Call us today!