Opossum, ‘possum, didelphis virginiana – it doesn’t matter what you call them. We know what they are, but do we know who they are? Opossums tend to be quite misunderstood.
Over the past few months, we’ve noticed a trend of social media posts from concerned locals asking for information on how to help or possibly “take care” of injured opossums around their property.
Perhaps you’re scared of this toothy, long-clawed beastie or you’re just super excited about helping a potentially lost soul. No one has the time to search through months worth of suggestions in various Facebook groups, so the Gabber’s got you covered.
First, some facts about our ‘possum neighbors.
Opossums are North America’s only marsupial, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Baby opossums are called joeys, just like kangaroos, and mom carries them around in a pouch and eventually on her back.
These cat-sized marsupials have long claws – that’s what makes them skilled climbers and allows them to hang in the trees to escape Florida’s killer sun.
They’re generally found in woodland areas with lots of cover and near water. However, since they’re adaptable creatures, we find them in our backyards as well.
Opossums are attracted to any available food, including pet food and trash. So, if the sight of these pointy-nosed creatures sends shivers down your spine, the FWC suggests keeping a lid strapped down on your trash cans and bringing pet food inside.
They also have opposable thumbs on their back feet, so the strap or a locking mechanism is pretty important.
Contrary to popular belief they’re not dirty or dumb – and according to the Humane Society, they are very unlikely to carry rabies. They also eat a plethora of garden pests.
An opossum’s body temperature makes them unlikely hosts for the rabies virus and they’re immune to all but one type of snake venom – in fact, opossums have been known to eat them, too.
According to the Wildlife Rescue Coalition of Northeast Florida, opossums eat insects, snails, rodents, berries, over-ripe fruit, grasses, leaves and dead things; “occasionally they also eat snakes, ground eggs, corn or other vegetables.”
Oh and don’t forget about tick control. Opossums eat ticks and help reduce the spread of Lyme disease.
Generally, if you leave them alone, they’ll do the same, while handling some of those less-than-savory garden pests.
If you find an injured opossum or lonely joey, don’t panic – contact a local wildlife rescue. The FWC’s southwest regional office can be reached at 863-648-3200.
Birds in Helping Hands is a nonprofit wildlife rescue, rehabilitation and release organization that services Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties. Call 727-365-4592 or visit birdsinhelpinghands.org.
Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife, a Tampa Bay resource for preserving Florida’s wildlife, can also help: 813-598-5926.