10 Interesting Opossum Facts

Opossums are fascinating creatures common to the eastern half of the United States. But despite the important role these marsupials play in their ecosystem, many people know relatively little about them. In the interest of remedying that, here are ten facts about opossums that you may not know.

1.    Their gestation period is incredibly short

Opossums have a gestation period, or pregnancy length, of only 12 to 14 days. Once born, the offspring make their way to the mother’s pouch, where they will continue to develop for a further two to four months.

2.    They have 50 teeth

That’s more teeth than any other land mammal in North America! Though some predators like bears and foxes have 42 for a close second place.

3.    They have thumbs on their back feet

Opossums are one of the few animals to possess opposable thumbs. However, unlike humans, opossums only have these highly maneuverable digits on their hind paws.

4.    Juvenile opossums are called Joeys

Like other marsupials such as koalas and kangaroos, baby opossums are referred to as joeys. This term comes from the Australian aborigine language, in which Joey means “small animal.”

5.    Opossums are the only marsupials in North America

Though there are several different species of opossum on the continent, it is the only order of marsupial present. Out of these species, only the Virginia Opossum is found north of Mexico.

6.    A group of Opossums is called a Passel

The word passel means “a large number or amount.” This word actually comes from an alteration of the pronunciation of “parcel.”

7.    “Playing Possum” is involuntary

Despite their portrayal in popular media, opossums do not consciously control their ability to play dead. Instead, this catatonic state is brought on by fear of present danger. It’s much closer to the response of a fainting goat than an actor.

8.    Opossums are practically immune to snake venom

Although they are not immune to all venoms, opossums have an incredible resistance to the venom of cottonmouths, rattlesnakes, and a variety of pit vipers. This ability comes from the presence of a specific peptide in their blood, which helps to neutralize the harmful effects of snake venom.

9.    Joeys ride piggyback

When they have finished weaning, Joeys will often ride on their mother’s back all at once, leading to the occasional humorous sighting of a female possum laden with juveniles like saddlebags.

10. Opossums are not pets

While this fact may seem obvious to most people, opossums are occasionally taken from the wild and kept as a pet under the guise of “rescuing.” If you see an animal suffering, it can be tempting to bring it into your home to nurse it back to health, but this treatment is best left to the professionals. Opossums kept as pets are likely to develop diet related diseases like rickets, as it is quite difficult to provide these creatures with the variation they require in their food.