Other name(s): Possum; North American Opossum
Scientific name: Didelphis virginiana
Because Virginia Opossums are slow-moving, seemingly unaware of many dangers, and content to live near people, babies and injured adults often find their way into the hands of well-meaning caretakers. Unfortunately, while youngsters are undeniably cute, they rarely adjust well to captivity once mature, and even with the best of care are notoriously short-lived.
The Virginia Opossum is one of North America’s most widely-distributed mammals, being found from southern Ontario, Canada through virtually all of the USA east of the Rocky Mountains to Costa Rica. Isolated populations are also found along the USA’s western coast.
This highly-adaptable marsupial is equally home in forests, brushy meadows, swamps, farms, suburban yards, and such dense urban centers as NYC.
Appearance / health:
Virginia Opossums are comparable to a large domestic cat in size, with an average weight of 7-14 pounds. The white under-coat is overlain with course brown, gray, and black fur. The head is long and pointed at the snout, and the bare tail is prehensile.
Virginia Opossums are naturally short-lived, and rarely live more than 2-4 years in captivity, even with the best of care; a single zoo animal is known to have reached age 6.5 years. Skunks are common hosts of roundworms and tapeworms, and must be regularly checked buy a veterinarian; flea/tick treatment and prevention is essential.
Behavior / temperament:
While very young Opossums are accepting of human company, once they mature (at age 6 months), most become aggressive and intolerant of confinement. Armed with 50 very sharp teeth, captives forgo the death-feigning strategy used by stressed wild individuals and instead bite when restraint is attempted. They seem unable to adjust to careful handling, and cannot be trusted. Folks desiring contact with Opossums may wish to seek training as a wildlife rehabilitator.
A custom-made cage of at least 15x15x6 feet (L x W x H), but preferably larger, is required to house an adult Virginia Opossum. Even so, individuals that are caged continuously become high-strung and stressed, as they cover a great deal of ground in their normal nightly wanderings. A devoted room is preferable as a Virginia Opossum enclosure. A variety of dog toys and a secure nest box should be provided.
Dry commercial skunk or dog chow supplemented with a variety of vegetables and fruit, rice, cottage cheese, crickets, mealworms, hard-boiled eggs, and cooked chicken works well as a basic diet. Cat vitamins should be provided if recommended by a veterinarian.
Virginia Opossum breeding is difficult to arrange in captivity and is best left to professionals. Sexual maturity is reached by age 6-8 months. Females give birth to 1-2 annual litters of 5-12 barely developed youngsters after a gestation period of only 12-13 days. The youngsters remain in her pouch for 50-65 days and are weaned at age 3-3.5 months.
Written by Frank Indiviglio
wildlife rehabilitation center, curious creatures, wildlife rehab license
aggressive way, razor sharp teeth, Federal USDA requirements, wild animal, inch-long fangs
solitary animal, snails bonus, weird naked tails, defensive posture, omnivorous scavengers
"Many people I talk to think that opossums are ugly and gross. I do not find them ugly or gross, as a matter of fact opossums are pretty cute (especially as babies) and pretty cool animals. However, that does not mean I think anyone should own an opossum as a pet. Adult opossums can appear pretty scary. They have these weird naked tails and often people think they're related to rodents which is not so. They also have this defense where they gape their mouth and hiss while showing teeth. Now if I didn't know anything about opossums I would see that and run for the hills. They look so scary and all of those teeth! Did you know that opossums have more teeth than any other North American Mammal? All 50 of them...yikes! However, I've never been bitten by an opossum and believe me that's the last thing they'll use for defense. If the gaping of the mouth and hissing doesn't work, they'll play dead. And let me tell you these guys know how to play dead, not like your dog that you trained to lay on his side. They'll lay down, mouth open, tongue out and worse they'll release their hind end on you. Ever been pooped on by an opossum? Yeah not as fun as it sounds. Opossums are also nocturnal so if you enjoy sleeping having an opossum as a pet is not for you. Opossums are omnivoruous which means they eat fruits, veggies and meat and most opossums I've worked with have been pretty picky about which fruits and veggies they eat. One thing that most people don't know about opossums is that they don't carry diseases like rabies (although I can see how most people would think they do with all them teeth), their body temperature is actually lower than most mammals. One thing I should probably mention is that opossums are marsupials meaning they care for their young in a little pouch on their bellies. These little pouches are super gross and sticky on the inside, especially if there is young. Most of us see opossums on the side of the road after they've been hit, which is sad. But there is something I often do if I see one that looks freshly hit, I check to see if there are babies either nearby or in the pouch. If you do ever find babies, get them to your nearest wildlife rehabilitator and please don't try to care for them yourself because the babies have to be tube fed which is very difficult unless you've been trained.."
From brandibrown77 Feb 25 2015 9:42AM
"I have had several Virginia Opossums, all were non-releaseables due to health issues or handicaps. All, except one, were wonderful companions. The male was very bitey and clingy.....not in a aggressive way, it was just his way. Some of us refer to them as "love bites" but they don't feel much like love at the time. Infact many opossums will nip, not sure what that is about but its not usually an aggressive act, its just something some more then others tend to do. Opossums are sold (legally) in a couple states for the pet trade. There is no real right or wrong answer in terms of if they make a good pet. All I can say is that they "can" make good pets for the "right" person. And any baby, whether it was raised by you or by a breeder can turn nasty as it gets older. They just quite simply wild up and need to be released at that point. People need to understand what they are getting into with a possum. They must have the proper diet to avoid metabolic bone disease and obestiy from occuring, they startle very easily (even the really tame ones), which results in their very large mouths gaping open in defense. I have seen this in all my opossums, which is quite funny at times as they will do that and then look as if to say "oh, its only mom" and close their mouths. Yes they can be potty trained but some will flat out refuse to use a potty box. Yes they have scent glands and males especially get that musky scent all around their necks that turns their fur yellow. Batheing them occasionally is usually necessary and I can guarantee you, possums will poop if you put them in water so be prepared for that. Of course it makes it easy to get a stool sample if you need one. It is often impossible to find a Vet who will treat an opossum so if your possum gets injured or ill, there may be no help at all available. Those that will, often have very little knowledge about this species and can do more harm then good.That needs to be factored in long before you get a possum. In addition, an opossum will be viewed as an "exotic" pet and your vet bills will reflect that.<br>DO NOT trust an opossum around your other pets. You are looking at a recipe for disaster. Although some possums will live peacefully with dogs and cats, others will not and it can be a toss up on who will come out in the best shape at the end. An opossum could and would most likely try to kill and or eat a pet rat, or other small animal or bird. I heard of one lady who's possum killed her rabbit and another killed somones parrot. This was not the opossums fault, but the naivity and or stupidity of the pet owner. Bottom line is, if you get a baby opossum, regardless of where you get it from, it has the potential to wild up and get nasty no matter how sweet it may be as baby. And if that happens, it is up to the human to release this animal in a safe place where there is a water source and lots of undergrowth for it to hide in. DO NOT keep a pet opossum caged, it is not fair to that animal and some will begin pacing and might turn aggressive, or just live miserable lives. <br>NOT recommended as a pet for children!<br>To learn more about opossums and their care, diet, health issues etc, please go to my website at: http://www.angelfire.com/marsupials1/possum19.html or write to me at email@example.com<br>Laura."
From Laura Mowrey Feb 18 2010 8:10PM
"I have handled and cared for several opossum during my time working at a wildlife rehabilitation center. I am not sure if it is just me but opossum seem to hate me. I thought they would be easy to deal with because they are known for playing dead, but all the ones I have dealt with were very vicious critters. They would hiss at me and squirm until they were far away from any people. I have known people who have raised opossum as pets and have been happy with them, but I have not personally had any pleasant experiences with them.."
From lace1992 Apr 28 2014 10:10PM