As the weather begins to warm up in Ohio, we begin to see wildlife emerge from a long winter’s rest. Some of these animals become frequent sights around dusk in our neighborhoods, yards, and streets. One such animal that many people view as “ugly,” “scary,” and a “pest” is the Virginia opossum. Unfortunately, due to many misconceptions, opossums often find themselves in danger of being destroyed by humans. While they might appear intimidating, opossums are just misunderstood.
Here are five surprising opossum facts to help us understand the true nature of this common backyard visitor:
Many don’t realize opossums, like koalas and kangaroos, are marsupials – the only marsupials in North America. As marsupials, opossums carry their young in a secure pouch located on their underbellies. When baby opossums outgrow mom’s pouch, they ride around on her back.
Opossums are not violent. When threatened, male opossums will often expose their teeth with a growl. However, their first and main defense is to do the opposite of attack – they play dead. Similar to the reaction of a fainting goat, opossums play dead involuntarily, their body reacts to danger and falls into a comatose state to try to trick predators into losing interest.
Opossums are a gardener’s friend because they eat garden pests. Their diets consist of mostly insects, including cockroaches, crickets, and snails. Opossums can consume dozens of snails and slugs a night, a big help in protecting your plants. Some gardeners who are aware of the benefits of having opossums around will introduce them to their property to help ward off plant-eating insects. They have also been known to kill and eat rats, mice, and venomous snakes. Opossums have unique immune systems, rendering them immune to venomous bites.
If opossums are making an unwanted presence, it’s easy to get them to move on, peacefully. Opossums are nocturnal and nomadic. They will choose to nest for daylight hours in holes that may be in a home, garage or shed. Unlike rats and mice, opossums are not destructive, they do not claw or chew. Being nomadic animals, they rotate areas and dens. Simply find the unwanted nesting area of the opossum and seal it. When the opossum checks this area and finds it is no longer accessible it will move on.
Opossums are not disease ridden. These ancient creatures have survived with little disease threat since the age of dinosaurs. They keep good personal hygiene, cleaning themselves and their coats like cats. They almost never carry the rabies virus, as their internal body temperatures are too low to support the viruses growth.
If you see an opossum on your property, chances are it is just passing through. Opossums are an intricate part of Ohio’s ecosystem and will coincide peacefully with humans. They pose not threat to you or your home. The next time you see an opossum, remember what a unique creature they are!
Merri is from Meigs County, Ohio and graduated from Ohio University with a Bachelor Degree in Journalism. She works as a Marketing Coordinator full-time, and also as a freelance copywriter. Merri has always had a passion for supporting animal rights and helping animals in need. She is a PetPromise cat foster, performs TNR in her area, and has an adopted cat named Big Poppa.
Photo by Monica R