How often do you pass by the side of the road and observe a creature laying motionless and obviously dead, just to see it get up and go on its way? An opossum was probably what you witnessed.
The Virginia opossum is the most widely distributed of the more than 60 possum species. Despite the common misconception that possums are nothing but filthy scavengers, these animals actually have some redeeming qualities.
Possums, for one, are notable for their exceptional foraging and memory skills. They keep coming back to the same spots to eat. When compared to rats, rabbits, cats, and dogs, possums performed better in memory tests involving the location of hidden food.
You may have seen a possum before, but you probably still have some questions. That being said, what kind of food do possums eat? But what about newborns; what does a possum infant eat? In zoos and other captive environments, what do possums eat?
What is an Opossum?
Opossums, which are members of the clade Didelphimorphia, are endemic to North and South America. In total, there are more than 120 distinct species, the vast majority of which are found in South America. In reality, North America is home to a single species. There is only one marsupial species found north of Mexico, and it’s the Virginia opossum, called possum for short.
These mostly nocturnal, solitary animals can be found anywhere, even in densely populated areas. So-called “playing possum” refers to the animal’s habit of pretending to be dead when frightened.
What Do Opossums Look Like?
Opossums can reach a maximum size of about 40 inches, making them roughly the size of a domestic cat. They have long, white or gray hair that covers their entire bodies. Opossums resemble rats in appearance, having a long, pointed face, round, hairless ears, and a long, thin tail. Females also have a tummy pouch that they use to carry and care for their young.
Possum vs. Opossum
Opossum and possum are two distinct animals, despite common usage. Opossums, a type of marsupial, are mostly found in North America and are characterized by their white and gray coloring. In contrast, the possum is the common name for a type of mammal native to Australia, New Zealand, and even China. In fact, “opossum” is where their name comes from.
The Possum Diet
Possums have a wide diet variety and will eat almost everything they can get their paws on. They’re not exactly fussy eaters because they like all kinds of different vegetation and animals. The possum’s diet is highly context dependent.
Because they hibernate during the winter, possums change their nutrition accordingly. However, possums eat mostly some items and only seldom consume others. Furthermore, possums have preferences for specific foods and will prioritize those options when given the chance.
What Do Possums Like to Eat?
We have narrowed the list down by finding the top 10 meals that possums enjoy. Examples of such foods are:
- Small mammals
- Dead animals
Possums, despite popular belief, need a lot of calcium in their diet. Possums, unlike some other animals, aren’t afraid of carrion and will gladly consume other creatures if given the chance. This is why possums would happily consume the bones of mice and other creatures that have been killed by cars. Cannibalism among captive possums has also been suggested by research.
However, there is scant evidence that cannibalism is widespread in the wild. When possums are around people, they frequently forage through trash cans, compost bins, and garbage cans for food. In addition to raiding human food sources, they will also help themselves to the contents of pet and bird bowls and garden supplies.
Possums, by nature, are not picky eaters; they will take advantage of any simple opportunity to eat that presents itself.
How Do Possums Hunt and Forage For Food?
Two of a possum’s most significant senses are its touch and smell. To reach the nests of birds, possums will use their opposable “thumbs” to climb trees and branches. They utilize their powerful forepaws and lengthy claws to rummage into the dirt in search of insects. Their acute sense of smell aids them in finding food even when it is far away. In fact, they have around three times as many scent-sensing genes in their nostrils as humans.
Although they have a passable hearing ability, it is not very refined. In addition, they have a severely impaired sense of taste, which could account for their propensity to consume a wide variety of foods. Lastly, they have subpar eyesight. As nocturnal animals, however, they rely mostly on their keen sense of smell to navigate and find food.
In the possum’s nightly quest for sustenance, it is not uncommon to hear it scurrying around. They dig for insects, bugs, and other invertebrates with the aid of their keen claws. They use their prehensile trails and opposable thumbs to climb trees, where they prey on birds and hunt for eggs.
There are more teeth in a possum’s mouth than any other North American mammal, with an average of 50. Not only that, but they have 10 upper incisors, which is more than any other animal. They spend a lot of time eating plants, particularly fruits, but their large, toothy mouths make it easier for them to eat other creatures as well. Urban possums use their keen sense of smell to find food scraps and other scraps of trash left by humans. Possums find trash to be an accessible source of calories.
What Do Possums Eat in the Wild?
In the wild, possums primarily eat insects. Possums typically eat beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, and cockroaches. They are also one of the most effective natural tick repellents available. Possums can consume up to five thousand ticks in one season. This makes them excellent tools for combating ticks and diseases like Lyme’s.
Rabbits, rats, mice, voles, snakes, frogs, birds, lizards, and fish are all among the small animals that make up their diet. The possum’s inherent resistance to several types of snake venom makes it a perfect predator of snakes. Possums are drawn to human areas and along roadways because of the abundance of carrion, which they devour. Because of this, possums are sometimes mistaken for roadkill because of their association with collisions.
In the warmer months, when there is a greater variety of animal matter available, possums increase their consumption of this food source. On the other hand, possums switch to a diet heavy in vegetation during the warmer months of the year. They are partial to berries and various fruits like apples and persimmons.
Even though they don’t eat them as often as other meals, possums will occasionally snack on nuts and seeds. When alternative options for sustenance are scarce, they will resort to eating grasses and other plants. If it’s hungry enough, the possum will devour just about anything.
What Do Captive Possums Eat?
Captive possums can survive up to four years in age on average. A possum’s lengthy lifespan, however, necessitates a diet rich in essential nutrients. Since possums are omnivores, they require a varied diet to ensure they receive all the necessary nutrients. Because insects make up such a sizable portion of a possum’s diet, pellet insect feeds are frequently chosen as pet possum fare.
Many possum keepers also make sure to provide their pets with a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables. Meats like chicken and fish, as well as eggs, are other good options. Dietary supplements containing extra vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, can also be included. Due to their voracious appetites, possums may be trained to eat almost anything. However, because of their slow metabolism, this might lead to health issues including obesity.
What Do Baby Possums Eat?
Babies possums are just over an inch long at birth. Infant possums, after being born, will immediately seek out their mother’s pouch to nurse. During their 2.5 month pouch stay, they will consume only milk. When the infants first emerge from the pouch, they immediately crawl onto mom’s back. A newborn possum will consume the same diet as an adult throughout the period it is riding on its mother’s back.
The average possum baby stays with mom for 4–5 months. They can take care of themselves at that age. The powdered milk formula and later pureed fruits and vegetables are given to baby possums in captivity. Don’t try to bring home a possum cub you find in the wild; its mother could be nearby.
Are Opossums Dangerous?
Most people’s first thought when they discover an opossum living in their yard or house is whether or not the animal poses any sort of threat.
The good news is that opossums are mostly harmless. Their wide-open mouth and hissing may look and sound menacing, but it’s just a defense mechanism.
Benefits Opossums Provide
When it comes to protecting communities from ticks and the Lyme illness they can spread, opossums are the unsung heroes. These little predators devour rodents, insects, and even snakes, which helps maintain a healthy balance in the local ecosystem. Opossums serve a useful purpose in the community by eating dead animals.
What Problems Do Opossums Cause?
Opossums are not harmful animals. On the other hand, they are adaptable and resourceful, allowing them to locate safety and nourishment in whatever environment suits them best. These drives can cause things like trash cans to be tipped over, bird feeders to be emptied, chicken coops to be broken into, and ductwork and insulation to be torn up.
Do Opossums Carry Diseases?
To humans and pets alike, opossums pose the greatest threat due to their potential disease transmission. Opossums seldom contract rabies because of their high body temperature and immunity, however they do frequently harbor fleas and other parasites. Many human diseases are transmitted by opossums:
- Spotted fever
- Chagas disease
- And more diseases.
Are Opossums Dangerous to Cats or Dogs?
Opossums are not predators of cats, dogs, or other large mammals, so you may rest easy knowing your furry pals are safe. Opossums aren’t often aggressive toward pets, but they could lash out if they feel threatened or if they’re fighting for food. When terrified, opossums typically either pretend dead or let off a foul odor.
Can Possums Make Pets Sick?
Even if possums don’t directly consume your pet cat or dog, they can still be fatally destructive by spreading deadly infections. Toxoplasmosis, for example, is transferred via these critters’ urination, contaminated water, or dirt.
In a similar vein, your cat or dog can catch coccidiosis from an infected possum’s excrement, which will cause diarrhea, if they eat or drink from the litter box.
Possums can spread a wide variety of diseases to your pet, including tularemia, rabies, spotted fever, Chagas disease, and tetanus.
Possums are known to be hosts for a wide variety of parasites, including those that might spread disease, such as mites, fleas, ticks, and lice.
Can You Humanely Euthanize a Possum?
All possums are protected by the National Parks and Wildlife Act of 1974 (NPW Act), making it illegal to catch, re-release, or kill them without a permit.
Predators can shorten a possum’s life by as much as half, bringing its typical lifespan down to between two and four years. For farmers and homes that have to deal with the possum’s disruptive activity, this might be a very long period and drive them to resort to killing the wild creatures.