Let’s talk about one of the most misunderstood animals in the Americas… the opossum (not possum). Even their name is misunderstood! Many people assume that opossums are a large type of rodent, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. They are actually North America’s only marsupial (mar-su-pial) which are mammals that bear a pouch to care for their young, similar to kangaroos and koalas. Their range of species have said to have been in existence around 65 million years ago. The word “opossum” is derived from the Powhatan language meaning “white beast.”
So why are we discussing opossums in the first place? Because awesome opossums are nature’s pest control and trash management and we see them often here in East Sacramento! These small sanitation engineers are optimistic omnivores whose diet consists of all types of bugs including cockroaches, beetles, ticks, snails and sometimes even mice and rats. To further help assist in cleaning up our environment, opossums are also known to eat garbage and roadkill. If there is an opossum in your yard though, need not worry, as they are no threat to you, your pets or your garden.
I am going to let you in on a secret and reveal some myths about these mysterious creatures. Opossums do not carry rabies and in fact, have a natural immunity against viruses, poisons and venom due to their lower body temperature and peptide proteins found in their bloodstream. They have peaceful and nonaggressive features, but like any animal they can exhibit defense systems when frightened or threatened. These mammals have an impressive collection of 50 teeth and can drool and blow snot bubbles to appear sick in hopes to ward off any predators. They are also known to play dead, which is an involuntary action caused by extreme fear. The opossum will gain consciousness when the coast is clear and then get out of dodge. Are you mind-blown yet? You should be!
Opossums are nocturnal and prefer to sleep alone. Despite what we have seen in our childhood cartoons, they do not sleep or hang by their tails. They spend their nights searching for food and sleep sound during the day, often under houses, sheds or piles of cardboard and rubble. This usually isn’t a cause for concern, as they will carry on their way to a new den after a few days to avoid predators. Whether residential, rural or in the wilderness, opossums are a benefit to the areas they inhabit and are proven to do more good than they ever do harm. These lovely creatures not only play a vital role in our ecosystem, they keep our neighborhoods cleaner of unwanted pests.
You are more likely to witness a visiting opossum if you have food sources such as pet food left outside, overripe and rotting fruit from trees or water. You can protect these shy and docile animals by keeping areas clean where you have dogs. However, if you see an injured or orphan opossum please contact your local wildlife rescue in East Sacramento. Otherwise, it’s best to leave them be and enjoy watching wildlife in your own backyard.
- Call 916-531-1261