Living with Wildlife: Virginia Opossum

The Virginia opossum is a generalist that can be found living near humans and in areas where there are human developments. If you live in an area where there are food opportunities or fields, forests, and water sources, then you are likely to encounter a Virginia opossum from time to time.

Virginia opossums are quite unique, being the only marsupial (pouched mammal) found in North America and having the most teeth of any North American mammal (50). Further, they have digits on their front and back feet for grasping and a prehensile tail that can be used to help them climb and hold on to tree branches. Opossums give birth to young the size of a jelly bean, which then crawl through the mother’s fur and into the pouch to suckle and continue to develop. When frightened, an opossum will play dead, meaning their tongue will hang out, they will go very still, they produce a foul odor, and either close their eyes or have a fixed gaze.  Virginia opossums can play dead for hours, if necessary.  Opossums are nocturnal, meaning that they are typically most active between dusk and dawn. 

Virginia opossums eat grass, nuts, fruit, worms, snakes, mice, birds, roadkill, ticks and other insects. However, Virginia opossums are very adaptable and will take advantage of any food source left out. Make sure that you are not inadvertently feeding Virginia opossums. Are you feeding the birds? Opossums are attracted to any bird food that falls on the ground.  Do you feed your pets outside? Leaving pet food outside overnight or in a container that is accessible by wildlife encourages wildlife to be in your yard and in close contact. Opossums are also attracted to garbage, so you should make sure that your trash receptacle is closed and unable to be tipped over or accessed by opossums. By eliminating non-natural food sources, opossums are less likely to cause damage and encounter humans or pets. Opossums can carry diseases such as leptospirosis, tuberculosis, tularemia, sarcocystosis, spotted fever, toxoplasmosis, coccidiosis, trichomoniasis, and Chagas disease. Rarely, opossums may also carry rabies. By maintaining an unattractive environment for opossums, you and your pets are less likely to encounter them and have any potential problems with them. Let’s help keep wildlife wild by doing our part. Help keep opossums safe and wild by removing food or water sources in your own yard.