opossum facts

A mama opossum with her babies on her back

Opossums are great neighbors. But first, let’s go through some opossum facts and myths. When you were a kid, were you always the last to get picked for a sports game? I was.

Now think about an opossum. It is probably the last animal you want in your yard? Right?

But once you know more about opossums and how cool they are, they might become your number one draft pick to attract to your yard. You’ve got to be kidding! Why? Let’s see.


opossum facts

Were you the last to get picked in class?

First of all, think back to when you were a child. Were you misunderstood? Always last to get picked for sports? Wow, that brings back so many bad memories from my (Loti’s) childhood.

I was always the last kid to get picked on any kind of sports team since I was skinny and awkward. As a result, I hated sports and would even forge my mom’s signature to get out of gym class. Sometimes it worked, other times…not so good.

Imagine how animals would feel if they knew no one understood them. Think of the opossum. Most people mispronounce their name just like my name! It is opossum for the North American species, not possum, which is for the Australian species. Just like my name is Loti with a long “o”, not Lottie.

What Is A Marsupial?

Many folks think of opossums as oversized rats with lots of teeth that wreak havoc in your yard. First, an opossum is not a rodent but a marsupial.

Well then, what is a marsupial? Think of a kangaroo. Marsupials are mammals that carry their babies in pouches. And the cool thing? Opossums are the only marsupial in North America.

A Tick Vacuum Cleaner. Yes or No?

Well, there is a lot of controversy around whether opossums eat ticks. A study on captive opossums published in 2009 declared they eat lots of ticks. As this info spread on the Internet, it quickly morphed into the statement, “opossums eat up to 5,000 ticks a season”.

Hmm. It is great PR for our misunderstood marsupial, but it turns out not to be true. The theory was debunked in a 2021 study that found ticks are not an important part of a opossum diet. So…

So what do they eat? Munching on fruit, small reptiles, carrion, worms, birds, eggs and just about anything they can find including roaches and even rattlesnakes. Wow, what happens if they get bit by a rattler? Well, they are immune to the venom so nothing happens. Pretty cool.


opossum facts

Opossums make great neighbors. Photo: Per Verdonk/Flicker

Some Other Opossum Facts

Some other opossum facts. They clean up your yard of overripe fruit (they love persimmons) and spilled birdseed. Your pet will not be attacked unless provoked. They do not chew on wires, get in your garbage or dig up your flowers.

Oh, and they very rarely carry rabies as their body temperatures are too low for the virus to survive. So when they hiss at you, it is just because they are frightened, not because they have rabies. Another myth needing dispelling.

opossum facts

Opossums make great neighbors. Photo: Per Verdonk/Flicker

Our First Animal Rescue

opossum facts

Opossum’s hiss when frightened

When Dale & I first got together, we discovered a mama opossum in Dale’s empty swimming pool with a bunch of babies. And yes, the pool should have been covered which is a whole different conversation, but I digress. Needless to say, she was frightened and had no way out of the pool. 

After hissing at us with all her teeth barred, she somehow must have realized we wanted to help her, not hurt her. Backing off, she watched us.

We put a bowl of water in the pool near her and Dale made a ramp so she could climb out. Sweetening the deal with some cat food smeared on the ramp, we left her alone. When we returned the next morning, she and her babies had escaped. Our first wildlife rescue as a couple!

Getting Your Opossum Facts Straight

So what is not to love about opossums? They get rid of unwanted pests and keep your yard clean. Plus, they are pretty darn cute.

And they could win an Academy Award for playing dead which they do if cornered. But the interesting thing is they are actually not playing. When frightened, they enter a catatonic state involuntarily, lasting 45 minutes to 4 hours. Scary for both the opossum and you.


opossum facts

Think this opossum is dead? It is just playing dead, hoping you will go away and leave it alone!

How Can We Help?

opossum facts

Help spread the word about the benefits of opossums. Drawing: Adelaide Tyrol


Plant a persimmon tree in the hope of attracting more opossums to your yard. I know we are!

Help us spread the word about this wonderful misunderstood, underappreciated animal. Post on social media.

If you ever find a baby opossum, call an animal rescuer right away. The baby might have fallen off its mom and the mom might not even know it is missing.

And if I am picking a team of wildlife for our yard, the opossum will be at the top of my list. Go Opossum!

Learn More

Opossums by National Geographic

7 Fascinating Opossum Facts by Farmer’s Almanac

National Opossum Society, a group of volunteers dedicated to the welfare of opossums

The True Story of the Virginia Opossum, The Wildlife Center of Virginia

In Western North Carolina, call Appalachian Wildlife Refuge if you find an abandoned or injured opossum. In other places, Google wildlife rehabilitation for a rescue organization near you.

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