Mom Opossum on branch with three babies on her back.

They’re the Only Marsupial Found North of Mexico

But what exactly is a marsupial, you may be asking? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a marsupial is “any of an order (Marsupialia) of mammals comprising kangaroos, wombats, bandicoots, opossums, and related animals that do not develop a true placenta and that usually have a pouch on the abdomen of the female which covers the teats and serves to carry the young.” Unlike many other mammals you can find in Australia, or many of the zoos in America, the Opossum is the only representative of a marsupial in North America. 

The Opossum has 50 Teeth

With as many teeth as the Opossum has (more than any other mammal), you’d think they would be a dangerous and vicious animal, but that’s quite far from how their normal behavior. These animals eat just about everything they can – that includes bones! With the help of their strong teeth, they can bite and break down more complex foods most animals and raccoons won’t touch. Because Opossums are non-aggressive animals, they’ll show their teeth off in hopes that their predator will find them more intimidating and not attack. Being omnivores, they eat just about anything, including insect pests, garden slugs, rodents, toads, snakes and even dead animals, which makes them very useful in a backyard.

They Have an Incredibly Strong Immune System 

Opossums will eat anything they can, so a snake won’t scare them away like most animals. In fact, they’ll usually see a snake as their next meal. Uniquely Opossums are immune to most snake venom! Specific proteins in their blood bind to the toxins in snake venom and neutralize it so it doesn’t affect them. Because of their tough immune system they rarely get rabies. These Marsupials have such a low body temperature that they don’t provide the right environment for any bacteria or rabies to thrive in. 

They Don’t get to Choose When They Play Dead

They can’t pick and choose when they want to play dead – at least to an extent. Their dead-like state is actually a form of a comatose. This stems from their nervous system going into extreme stress – usually when they feel threatened. Opossums can remain in their state of comatose for up to four hours. They also omit a foul smell in the comatose state resembling the odor of a dead animal. Usually, predators will leave them alone when they’re in this state, but that isn’t always a guarantee. If the Opossum is in this state of playing dead, it can’t move, and if a predator still wants them as its next meal, unfortunately, it won’t be “playing” dead anymore.

They Have Thumbs and Prehensile Tails

Opossums have opposable thumbs, like monkeys and humans. However, unlike Raccoons that have, in fact, five long fingers, Opossums use their thumbs on the back feet for balance and climbing trees. In addition, an Opossum tail is usually long and prehensile, meaning that it has adapted in time to grasp and latch on to things. An opossum can even hang from its tail for a short period!

What to do if an Opossum is in Your Yard

Most Opossums don’t pose a threat to you, your family, or your pets. However, you can keep a close eye on it, and most likely, they’ll venture somewhere else. A few things you can do to keep them away is to make your yard an area they don’t want to be in in the first place. Keep your yard tidy and free of garbage. If you have any crawlspaces, make sure there are no holes or small spaces they can take shelter in. Lastly, if you see that the Opossum is hurt or behaving strangely call a wildlife rehabilitation center to help out. 

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