Opossums get a bad rep, but they are very necessary animals to our environment. They are scavengers and help keep the earth clean. They feed on carrion (road kill), invertebrates (such as bugs), fruits, and small vertebrates. They also eat ticks, helping decrease the prevalence of lyme disease.
Babies: If you find a baby opossum that is less than 8 inches long, it is considered an orphan. This is because a baby opossum would not be found outside of the pouch under normal circumstances. The orphaned baby should be brought to your nearest wildlife hospital or rehabilitator immediately. As the opossum gets older (at about 80 days of age), it will come out of the pouch and will be seen clinging to the mother’s side or her back. Baby opossums that are at least 8 to 9 inches long from the nose to the base of the tail are on their own.
If a dead adult is found: Always check a dead opossum for babies. Just because the mother is dead, doesn’t mean the babies are! But they will be if you don’t check. If there are babies in the pouch, try to pull the babies off the mother; if you can’t, transport the mother and babies to the nearest rehabilitator.
Behavior: Opossums are nocturnal (active at night) and have a solitary life. They are usually non-
aggressive and prefer to “play possum”, or fake death. When frightened, hey hiss with their mouths gaping open and excrete foul-smelling feces and a thick green gel-like substance. But remember, just because a species is characteristically non-aggressive, some individuals can be aggressive and will attack. Care should always be taken when working with wild animals.
Zoonotic Diseases to be Aware of: Opossums are carriers of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that starts off with flu-like symptoms. If left untreated, leptospirosis will cause kidney damage, menigitis, liver failure, and respiratory complications. The disease is transmitted through the urine and feces. It infects other mammals including cats, dogs, and humans. To prevent infection, keep pets vaccinated against leptospirosis and use bleach to clean up urine and feces. Wear gloves when handling a found opossum, and when cleaning up urine and feces. Wash hands with soap and water afterwards.