Field Notes


November 9, 2023

Opossums are relatively common and their appearance tends to evoke extreme opinions. Whether you think they are cute or ugly, they are unique and important creatures. 

For starters, these nocturnal animals are North America’s only marsupial! They also have a prehensile tail used to help them climb and carry objects like grasses and other items for their dens. Opossums might be most well known for “playing” dead when under attack. While this does happen, they aren’t playing or acting. Their first mode of defense is to run away or hiss and bear their teeth, but if they are surprised, they will involuntarily go into a state similar to fainting for a few minutes or hours. This will often confuse the attacker who doesn’t want to eat dead, unhealthy prey. It is a useful defense whether they intend to do it or not!

They are also highly adaptable animals and therefore play a key role in many wild habitats as well as urban and suburban areas. Though they only live 1-2 years, they average 9 young per year, so they play a critical role in the food web. They eat a wide variety of things, including fruit, insects, earthworms, eggs, nestlings, birds, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, and carrion. Though often overlooked, disposing of dead animals is a crucial service they provide both in wilderness areas as well as in neighborhoods, cities and roadways. Opossums themselves also provide prey for owls, raptors, bobcats, coyotes, and unsupervised dogs. 

Though some think opossums are dirty animals, they are actually exceptionally good groomers. In fact, one study showed that when exposed to ticks, they removed 95% from their bodies, leading some to believe they may help manage tick populations.

Enjoy this short video of opossums (including a mother raising her young) captured by a GTRLC wildlife camera under the boardwalk at Arcadia Marsh Nature Preserve. 


Note: Game cams from the general public are not allowed on GTRLC preserves. The Conservancy uses them periodically for study and communication purposes.

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