Opossums, aka "possums," are marsupial mammals most commonly found in the eastern US. They spread to the western US during the Great Depression, when they were widely used as a food source, and have been found as far north as Toronto, Canada.
Opossums are semi-arboreal, that is, they usually live in trees. They give birth to a large number of young after a very short gestation period: 12-15 days between impregnation and birth. Usually only 15 or less of each litter will survive, and these live in a pouch on their mother until they are weaned, usually around 70 days.
Opossums are omnivorous, nocturnal, and lazy; this leads to their high occurrence near human habitations. Human homes provide plentiful food, in the form of garbage and pet food, water, and shelter. Opossums do not put any significant amount of work into creating their nests, preferring to dwell in or under buildings, in rotting logs, and in the abandoned burrows of other animals.
Opossums that are threatened or injured will "play dead," an involuntary reaction that causes the animal to curl up on the back or side, bare its teeth, foam at the mouth, and release a foul-smelling fluid from the anal glands. Opossums that are playing dead can be touched and even carried without a reaction from the animal. When they sense that the danger has passed, after a period of minutes or hours, they will regain consciousness and escape.
If you find opossums in or near your home, it is best not to mess with them, as they can attack when threatened (though it is more likely that they will play dead), and can also carry rabies. The best thing to do is contact a Wildlife Specialist, such as Keystone, for removal.
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