The Opossum (called “Possum” everywhere else but North America) are one of nature’s most hearty and unique animals. They are the land mammal with the most teeth (50), and they have a natural resistance to snake venom and most known viruses!
Opossums will move to where the food is, but you can expect to find them in mostly wooded habitats although many have found habitats in urban and suburban areas. They are nocturnal, so you will probably only see them with your flashlights or headlights! They do not hibernate so you can spot them year-round.
Possums are omnivores and eat almost anything. They eat fruits, leaves, insects, small mammals, eggs, snakes, garbage, and decaying carcasses. Their diet can vary by region and by season.
Opossums are known for their ability climb and they have sharp claws, strong teeth, and a muscular tail to help them in this effort. Their back feet have an opposable thumb which helps them grasp and climb. They also have a very strong sense of smell and use this to navigate. Their sense of sight and hearing is not that good and chances are that they’ll smell you far before they see or hear you. The highest risk to the possum is the human. While owls, foxes, and larger predators are a threat to them, it’s people and their cars that are the largest threat. The first means of defense will be a hiss and bearing of teeth. This is used to intimidate the predator.
Their 2nd line of defense and claim to fame is their innate ability to play dead! They can actually put themselves in an altered state where they are non-responsive to physical stimuli. This resembles the same state as a person who has just fainted. By playing dead, their predators lose interest and move on. They can remain in this state for minutes or even hours.
Possums reproduce year-round. They carry their young, like kangaroos, in a pouch. Female possums will have 1-3 litters a year with 8-9 young per litter. The young will not open their eyes until they are 2-3 months old, at which time they will emerge from their mother’s pouch. As juvenile possums, they will get the adult characteristics such as the white-haired face, the pointed pink nose, and the course black furry body.
So if your camping trip takes you on any nighttime excursions, keep your eyes on the look-out and you might just catch a glimpse of our nocturnal friend, the possum.