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Info- Opossum

The opossum is the only North American member of the order Marsupialia. Marsupials (or pouched mammals) carry their young in a fur-lined pouch on the belly of the female. The opossum is roughly the size of a house cat, weighing 9-13 lbs., but with a broader body and shorter legs. Its face is white with a pinkish pointed nose, dull orange eyes and paper-thin black ears. It is whitish-gray in the north to nearly black in the south. Its round scaly tail, black at the base and white at the end, is prehensile- adapted to grasp objects. The opossum has the most teeth (50) of any North American land mammal all of which it bears when threatened by potential predators. It has five toes on each foot with an opposable inside toe on each hind foot.

The opossum prefers farming areas, but can also be found in woodlands and forests along streams. Food habits and high adaptability to urban areas brings the benign creature close to humans, however it is often unnoticed because it is nocturnal. The opossum will make a den in any suitable place, carrying nest-building materials such as leaves and twigs with its tail. Among favorite nesting sites are in wood piles, hollow logs, beneath outbuildings, in culverts and in brush piles.

The female opossum bears litters of up to 14 kits, each premature about the size of a honeybee. Immediately after birth the tiny animals crawl their way up the mother’s abdomen to complete their development in the pouch or marsupium. There they attach to the mammae and nurse for several months. After emerging from the pouch, they ride on their mother’s back for another few weeks until they drop off to fend for themselves. They may breed several times a year.

Skunks are also nomadic, and they do not take up permanent residence under buildings or in your shed. Given time they will move along all on their own.

The opossum is omnivorous, feeding on fruits, vegetables, nuts, meat, eggs, insects and carrion. It is also a scavenger and will root through loose garbage, compost piles and vegetable gardens. It is advisable to clear pet’s feeding dishes after eating, as the remains will entice opossums to the area.

Common Misconceptions
It is not true that opossums hang by their tails. When learning to climb, very young opossums will use their tails to break their falls and stabilize their movements. There are some occasions where they may be suspended by their tails while they regain their footing. The tail is not strong enough to suspend an adult. Opossums are not disease-ridden animals like most people think. It is very rare for an opossum to have distemper and even more rare for a opossum to have rabies. Because their blood temperature is so low, it makes them less susceptible to certain viruses. It is also very uncommon for an opossum to attack you unless you are physically touching them. Their first instinct is to play dead and secrete a green substance to make them smell rotten.

For self-help information on opossums click on Self-Help- Opossums

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How to keep opossums away

Like any wild animal, the opossum is attracted to an area because of a food source.  If you have an opossum living under your house, take away any cat/dog food left outside and close any cat/dog door that leads inside to food for at least two weeks. Scatter “predator scent”, which is mountain lion poop and is sold at Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue in Petaluma (707-992-0274), around the areas where you know the opossum will encounter it to encourage it to leave. The scent should make it afraid and it will choose to move somewhere else. If one is living under your home seal up all the accesses except one, so the opossum can still get out. Pour some flour at the entrance and watch for footprints walking away from the opening. Then close up the hole so it cannot get back. Opossums carry their babies in a pouch so trapping babies inside is less common, but can still happen, so be cautious in the spring.

A Wildlife Exclusion Service • 403 Mecham Rd, Petaluma 94952 • (707) 992-0276
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