Is it an opossum or a possum? In the Pacific Northwest, we have Virginia opossums, also known as possums. They arrived in Washington state in the early 1900s when they were considered novelties and pets. Now, they inhabit most urban and suburban environments within western Washington and the surrounding PNW.
What Are Opossums
Opossums are marsupials like koalas and kangaroos because of the fact that they carry their young in an exterior pouch versus developing their young in a placenta. They are nocturnal creatures that spend their day in dens or protective coverings until they come out to forage at night. The only time you will see an opossum with another opossum is when a mother is with her young or it is breeding season. Otherwise, they are solitary mammals who keep to themselves.
Opossums typically roam on land but they are good at swimming and climbing if they need to. When they are not moving around in search of food they will be constantly grooming themselves in the same way a feline does. Their hair is long, silver, and gray. They have beady eyes, and long, sharp claws.
How Do Opossums Behave
When opossums are roaming around at night looking for food they will leave tracks on the earth that are easy to distinguish because of their unique paw print. They have an opposable hind thumb that points up to 90 degrees away from the direction it is heading. If they come across something they believe is a threat they will growl and hiss or possibly play dead.
Playing dead is a defense mechanism that is involuntary for opossums. Because they are slow runners they need ways to avoid predators so if hissing and growling don’t deter a threat they will fall onto their side, curl up their body, start to drool, and even excrete droppings. This defensive mechanism can last for hours until the opossum believes it is safe to resume its normal activities.
Interesting Facts About Opossums
Opossums Help Keep Lyme Disease From Spreading– Opossums eat ticks and are estimated to consume up to 5000 ticks per season per opossum. Since ticks are the spreader of Lyme disease this makes opossums very helpful in reducing the spread of this disease
Opossums Are Immune To Most Snake Venom– Opossums eat snakes so they don’t look at these reptiles in the same way as humans do. Snakes are a meal for them which is why their bodies are designed to resist almost all snake venom within the region they live in.
Opossums Are Not Likely To Get Rabies– Unlike other wildlife like raccoons, opossums rarely get rabies due to the fact that they have a lower body temperature compared to other mammals making them unsuitable for the rabies virus.
Opossums Are Smart– Opossums are smart when it comes to food. They have an incredible memory reflex allowing them to remember where they found a food source and be able to distinguish toxic substances after a year of coming into contact with them.
Opossums Have Very Large Pupils– Most people believe opossums have eyes that are completely black but they just happen to have very large pupils and because of their beady eye shape it’s hard to see the white exterior around the pupils.
Should I Worry About Opossums
Opossums mostly fend for themselves eating things such as slugs, insects, old fruit thats fallen of trees and maybe your pet food if you leave it out at night. They have been known to rummage through trash but this is usually because another critter has made a mess of it. Opossums, in a lot of ways, are beneficial to have around as they help decrease pests in gardens and eat ticks as we mentioned earlier. If they ever do seem scary, it’s really themselves who are scared and acting that way to get you to leave.
The concern, however, with opossums are when they get into your home and start living there. Opossums have made it into spaces such as attics, crawlspaces and inside walls. This is most likely due to them looking for a safe place to live and rear their young. In this case, you will want to have the opossums humanely removed as they will cause damage wherever they are dwelling.
Opossums in Portland and Vancouver will be more of a nuisance than a threat to you or your pet. If you do have opossums living within your home or business you will want to call your local pest control specialist who understands how to safely deal with wildlife issues.