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Wildlife Damage Management

Opossum (Didelphis virginiana)

Virginia Opossum. Credit: Alden M. Johnson © California Academy of Sciences Opossum are marsupial mammals comparable in size to domesticated cats. They have a pointy nose, rounded hairless ears, five fingered hands and feet and a long, thin, hairless tail. A female may bear two litters every year – usually consisting of six or seven young. Most of the young will not survive to adulthood. During their first year of live, they will spend several months in their mothers pouch, followed by another month or so clinging to their mother’s back and nursing inside her pouch until they are ready to move out and find their own territory. Normal life span is about three years.

They are nocturnal creatures, good climbers, and live in many different kinds of habitats, including urban and suburban areas. You may find them living under your porch, in a woodpile, or denning in your garage or tool shed. Opossum are omnivorous and may be attracted to your property by fruit or nuts that have fallen from trees, vegetables and herbaceous plants in your garden, pet food, accessible garbage, or small prey items like lizards or rodents. Their nests are usually a pile of sticks or other found items.

Opossum are not aggressive, but will hiss, growl, and produce a foul smelling musk if they feel threatened. They are well known for their theatrical propensity to “play dead” when in danger. The coma-like state that befalls them is a nervous reaction that causes them to go limp while the heartbeat and breathing fall to a nearly imperceptible rate making the animal appear dead. The response is short term, and the opossum recovers fully following such an episode.

Opossums can become a nuisance for gardeners that wish to protect their produce. They can make a mess of your garbage or cause your dog to bark incessantly at night. They may also act as vectors for diseases such as leptospirosis, tuberculosis, and spotted fever, though this is rarely a problem unless the animal is handled or consumed. The best method for managing this nuisance is exclusion with fencing and securing attractive food items from their reach. Alabama hunting regulations provide for hunting racoons and opposums at night.