Back to Wildlife Info
The Trash-Can Opossum
If “a cat has nine lives” then how many lives does an opossum have? If the opossum at West Sound Wildlife Shelter is any indication, opossums may have many lives.
This opossum was attacked by a dog, presumed dead, placed in a trash bag and into a garbage can. At that point he most likely was “playin’ possum” – mimicking the appearance and smell of a sick or dead animal. This involuntary state includes a stiffening of the body which means it can be prodded, turned over and even carried away. The opossum will regain consciousness from this state in as little as a few minutes, possibly hours, and then attempt his escape. In this particular case when the garbage can was revisited a week later the opossum had managed to escape his trash bag and at that time West Sound Wildlife Shelter was contacted.
Although opossums are commonly called possums, the true “possum” is an Australian species. The opossum found in North American is the Virginia Opossum that was introduced to the western United States during the Great Depression. The opossum is North America’s only Marsupial mammal. The female carries her young in her pouch until they are 2 to 3 months old. Opossums are also the only mammal that has four fingers and an opposable thumb on each of its hind feet that work like a human thumb so that it can hang onto small branches and pick up things easier than most mammals.
During the initial examination at West Sound this opossum required resuscitation and was placed in a dark environment for evaluation. The opossum recovered himself and set about the task of grooming. Opossums are solitary, nocturnal and usually slow moving. The opossum is very adaptable and will thrive in almost any habitat if there is a source of water, food and existing den sites – they use abandoned burrows of other animals rather than digging their own. The opossum is passive even though it looks ferocious and may hiss and show all 50 teeth if it feels threatened. Opossums are omnivorous, feeding on rats, mice, moles, slugs, snails, shrews, worms, beetles, ants, grasshoppers, crickets, frogs, and snakes of any kind.
An examination was conducted at Ridgetop Animal Hospital where stitches were applied and a bone removed from the opossum's tail. The opossum is the only mammal in the United States with a prehensile tail that helps in stabilization during climbing. Young opossums hang by their tails, but adults grow too heavy for the tail to support this activity. Females carry items in their tails when building their nest.
The opossum at West Sound Wildlife Shelter is steadily improving and the staff hopes that he will continue his progress enough to be released.
Read another opossum story.