Opossums and possums are different where the names may sound similar. Possums are tree-living marsupial species native to the Indonesian islands of New Guinea, Sulawesi, and Australia.
Opossums are regarded as the descendants of one of the oldest families of mammals. They trace the evolution back to more than 65 million years ago when dinosaurs existed.
Opossums are one of the quickest and intelligent mammals of all. There are many surprising facts about opossums that we are unaware of.
The scientific name of an opossum is Phalangeriformes and falls under the order Didelphimorphia. Many people think they are dirty, doltish creatures, but they are smarter, cleaner, and more beneficial to humans.
Around 110 species are found across Central and South America, whereas Virginia opossum(Didelphis Virginian) is the only marsupial found north of Mexico.
Opossums are often called possums in North America, and there are many dozens of different species of opossums. They are the only marsupial(pouched mammal) found in the US and Canada.
Opossums feed on cockroaches, rats, and mice, helping to keep the environment healthy and eradicate Lyme disease’s threat. Researchers have found that opossums do attack humans. They defend themselves when they sense danger and tries to protect their young as well.
They are solitary mammals. They can stay in one area as long as food and water are available. Some opossum families can form a group and stay in a burrow or even under houses.
Opossums try to use abandoned places where they don’t need much effort to make their own home. They don’t dig holes or tunnels. Here are some interesting facts about Opossums:
1. Opossums can fake death
When opossums feel threatened or harmed, they can play like the dead. They can pretend as if they got passed away to misguide predators as they are unconscious. The act is known as “Play Possum.”
Play possum is a psychological act that is involuntary. It is not intentional by these cute little opossums. It will not happen every time they feel threatened.
When these opossums play possums, their saliva forms like foam, lips are drawn back, and teeth are bared. The foul smell gets secreted from their anal gland, and their eyes get fully or half-closed.
The first sign when they feel conscious is twitching their ears. However, they get back to normal within few minutes to few hours.
These defensive tactics are one of the important and unique facts about opossums.
2. Opossums love ticks
Opossums kill and eat 93% of ticks across their path. A single opossum can eat almost 4000 ticks every season. Mostly, black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks, are their favorite.
These ticks are responsible for spreading Lyme disease. Thanks to opossums, they do reduce the spread of Lyme diseases.
According to the research, a group of biologists from Cary Institution gave 100 ticks to eat to species like opossums, squirrels, chipmunks.
Guess who won the race? Opossum killed and ate the most ticks compared to other animals. No doubt their menu contains about 5000 ticks per season.
3. Opossums have sharp memories
Opossums have keen memories, especially when it comes to food. They can easily remember on which path did their prey go?
They are smart creatures.
They can recall the memory of substances that are toxic up to the year after trying them once. Opossums are even better than dogs when it comes to remembering food.
According to the research, opossums did great on memory tests.
It is the only marsupial species with intelligent memory. They also scored better than rats, rabbits, cats, and other animals.
These facts about opossums show how sharp their mind works from playing opossums to having sharp memory.
4. Opossums love Self-Grooming
Considering their smelly and acting routine, opossums do not fall under extreme sanitary animals in nature. They use their tongue and paw to groom themselves frequently and thoroughly.
They prefer to stay neat and clean. When the baby in the pouch excretes, these mammals regularly clean it. These facts about opossums justify the denial as a sanitary animal.
5. Opossums are good climbers
Opossums are agile and curious. They are one of the best tree climbers. They have honed, opposable thumbs on their hind feet.
To grasp and wrap around the branches while climbing and jumping, they use a prehensile tail. However, in freezing temperatures, the tip of their tails tends to fall off.
Sometimes they even hang on their back end and sleep. These facts about opossums justify their survival instincts.
Also, opossums love to play around trees. They even build their nest on the tree holes. Male and female opossums work together to build nests, although they don’t live in the nest.
6. Opossums have pouches
Since opossums are marsupials, they have pouch-like kangaroos. Mother is itself a nest for their babies. They give birth to young babies. The newborn of the opossum is usually blind and deaf.
Opossums use their sacs to carry their babies after they are born. To complete the baby’s development, baby opossums need to crawl towards their mom’s pouch or into the birth canal.
These marsupials do not have a gestation period during their pregnancy like other mammals. Babies defecate in their mother’s pouch and need to clean it frequently.
Surprising facts about opossums also include the baby pouches like a kangaroo. Opossums’ sacs play a crucial part in the reproduction process.
7. Opossums can make strange sounds
Opossums are usually quiet. However, they can make some weird noises like “Choo.” Sneezing noises and soft noises when they need to call their mother.
Male opossums make some clicking sounds during mating season to attract female opossums. When they feel danger or if they get threatened, they make a hissing or growling sound.
While being aggressive, opossums also make a “Zook-Zook” sound. These facts about opossums communicating through sound are surprising.
8. Opossums can be smelly
When opossums come into your yard and play possum, they can emit a foul-like smell that can be disgusting to your nose. The foul odor is similar to the decaying of the corpse.
When their feigning reactions get triggered, they secrete this type of smell. It is one of the best tactics used by opossums to get rid of their predators.
9. Opossums are immune to rabies
Unlike other animals, opossums are highly resistant to rabies. Additionally, they are also immune to some venoms of rattlesnakes and cottonmouths.
Including opossums, honey badgers, and ground squirrels are also naturally protected snake venoms. They even eat venomous snakes.
So, the resistance to snake poison has naturally developed in the opossum’s body. Immune to rabies and snake venom is shocking facts about opossums.
10. Opossums have black eyes
Opossums’ most noticeable feature is their black eyes. They have pair of opaque eyes and are mostly recognizable by others.
They do have a white part and iris part in their eyes. Their pupil is so large, due to which we can’t see the white and iris part. It’s completely black from a distance.
Once the eyes of baby opossum get opened, they can see the world. They are naturally nocturnal and can see after the sun goes down.
Since they have keen night vision, the opossum has weak eyesight during the daytime. Being the nocturnal animal, they can see at night.
11. Opossums have a complicated reproductive system
Opossums have a unique reproductive system as other marsupials. Females have two vaginal tracts and two uteri, where males have a forked or bifurcated penis.
12. Conservation Status
Many species of opossums are on the brink of extinction due to logging, fires, and climate change. Leadbeater’s possum top’s the list of critically endangered species.
The vandalization of the habitat used for agriculture, livestock, and timber has forced them towards extinction.
The western ringtail possums are also on the verge of extinction. Australia listed 27 species of possums and gliders as the most threatened.
In conclusion, all the characters mentioned in the facts about opossums seem to be what we call “a human instinct.” Its fight for survival to the smelly behavior they seem to be intelligent.
Their behavior, agility, and intellect are precise and instantaneous. Opossums are talented at handling their affairs and responsibility.(Last Updated On: September 10, 2021)