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OPOSSUM

skunk{Didelphis virginiana}

Opossums are found throughout the United States but prefer mild winter areas. They have more teeth than any other mammal in North America (over 50) that they show to their enemy when confronted. Although they look fierce, they are mild and very shy.

Breeding: Two litters a year, 7-12 per litter

Active: Nightime, Year-Round

Diet: Carrion, Insects, Fruit Garden Crops

Appearance
Opossums are North America's only marsupial. They are the size of a cat, with grayish white fur, a hairless prehensile tail and pointed nose. The mother carries her offspring in her pouch or on her back.

Behavior
These slow-moving, nocturnal creatures may play dead when frightened, but will drool, growl and show their teeth to scare off people and predators. Despite these actions, opossums are rarely aggressive. These shy, non-aggressive creatures will go to great lengths to avoid confrontation with other animals or man. However, if cornered, these creatures do have many teeth and, as with any wild animal, they may bite.

Benefits
The benefits of opossums far outweigh the problems they cause; but because of their high visibility in our neighborhoods, a little knowledge about them may result in greater tolerance of these little nomads.

When the young opossums are born, they are little more than embryos. After birth, they crawl into the mother's pouch where they nurse and mature for about ten weeks. They become independent of the mother at about three months of age. Many common opossum sightings involve the mother opossum waddling along with ten to twelve furry little creatures attached to her. Often the babies fall off, accounting for the many "orphans" brought to wildlife rehabbers. Even more frequent sightings involve opossum in roads having been hit by cars. Concern citizens are urged to check the dead opossum. If female, there may still be living babies inside the pouch. Thousands of baby opossums have been saved by those attentive citizens who have transported the dead mother with her living babies still attached, to the nearest wildlife rehabilitation center. Opossums are perhaps the most fascinating of all wildlife in our area and are an important and beneficial part of the "wildlife scene." 

Opossums rarely cause problems for humans, but often frighten people by their rat-like appearance. Opossums are excellent at rodent and insect control and, being carrion eaters, they help keep roadways and neighborhoods clean. A neighborhood with opossums tends to be considerably cleaner than a neighborhood without them.   

Deterrents
- Do not leave pet food or trash outdoors at night.

- Opossums rarely stay in one area for more than a few nights, so fear of them taking over an area in not a factor.

- Pick fruit and garden crops when ripe to discourage opossums and do not leave rotten fruit or crops on the ground.

- Opossums use abandoned burrows of other animals rather than digging their own. By eliminating brush piles, dilapidated buildings and holes under concrete slabs you will eliminate opossum hotels.

- Opossums occasionally enter homes through pet doors. They can generally be coaxed outside by a broom, or the problem can be entirely avoided by securing pet doors at night.

- Lighting up den sites and a portable radio may cause the opossum to seek a more suitable habitat.

- Moth balls or ammonia soaked rags placed in near the opossum den may deter them. Make sure the animal is gone when you place the deterrents.

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