Opossums: A Friendly Neighbor or Scary Nuisance?

Opossums are a vital part of our environment. Learn why we should appreciate them in our backyards.

We think of opossums and think; ugly, scary, lots of teeth, rabies. While some of those may be true, most of our ideas of opossums are wrong. Opossums are a vital part of our environment. They act as cleaners, eating fallen fruits off the ground that will eventually rot and attract rats, roaches, and other bugs. They also eat these nuisance bugs. Without these handy little creatures, we'd have a lot more bugs, rats, and smelly rotting fruit in our yards.

You may think, "Well, I still think opossums are dangerous." If you stop and think about it, have you ever heard of an opossum attack? You know they have razor sharp teeth, you've seen the pictures. In reality, they use these razor sharp teeth for 2 reasons. One, to eat snails, acorns, roaches, and decaying food, and two, to scare a would-be predators away. Where do you think the term "play 'possum" came from? An opossum is the least confrontational animal in the animal kingdom. Playing dead is the best way to avoid a fight. Showing those scary teeth will scare anyone away.

Although we know that they have a face only a mother can love, let's not assume that they are a carrier of rabies. The fact is, they don't carry rabies. The opossum has the highest immune system of any animal. The mother's milk has 2 times more antibiotics in it than our strongest antibiotic.

We, of course, worry about our pets in the back yard. Certainly, with those big teeth, they could hurt our pets. But, in actuality, your pet would be of more danger to an opossum. Opossums are very slow moving, so a dog can easily attack and kill an opossum.

Believe it or not, natural predators are not the opossum’s biggest problem. The average opossum doesn't live past 1 year of age. Why? Cars? Since opossums are nocturnal, fast moving cars won't see an opossum until it's too late. We've seen opossums dead on the side of the road, but did you know that living inside the pouch, could be many baby opossums.

Being North America's only marsupial; the babies live in the pouch until they are about 4 months old, old enough to be on their own. The best thing to do, if you see a baby opossum, is contact the National Opossum Society or the Opossum Society of the United States. If you don't know how to care for opossums, you'll need to contact someone who does. They require VERY specific nutritional needs.

Being an opossum rehabilitator, I've had the pleasure of having opossums in my home. I found them at about 3 weeks old, with one having Metabolic Bone Disease. This disease is very common in opossums that don't have the exact nutritional needs during development.

My opossums were a part of the family and interacted and played with my cats. They were litter box trained and walked on a leash. While I had them, they went out to educational functions with kids as ambassadors for the breed. While you may never meet a tame opossum, take my word for it. They are loving, intelligent, and useful creatures. Please, don't take in an infant opossum if you don't know their nutritional needs. My year with my opossums was filled with many ups and downs and they are VERY hard to care for.

I hope, though, after reading, that you'll think twice about opossums and feel privileged if you have one living in your yard.


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