Opossums are North America’s only marsupial. The female carries and nurses her young (up to 13 at a time) in her pouch until they are about 2-3 months old.
Then they are carried another 1-3 months on her back when they are outside their den. They are omnivores that have been around since the days of the dinosaurs. They have 50 teeth, more than any other mammal, and their hind feet have thumbs, just like human hands.
Learning and discrimination tests rank them above dogs, and more on the level of pigs. They have a prehensile tail they use for balance when climbing or to carry leaves back to their den for bedding.
They do not, however, hang by their tail. They are solitary and nocturnal, preferring to avoid all confrontations. When cornered, they may hiss and growl or fall into an involuntary shock-like state (“playing possum”).
Unfortunately, few live beyond 1 year of age in the wild as they are killed by many predators: humans (and cars), dogs, cats, owls, and larger wildlife.
If you find a small opossum that has been separated from its mother and its body is more than 8 inches long (not including the tail) it is old enough to be on its own! If it smaller than this or injured, it will need assistance.
If you have found a baby opossum, a young opossum with no mother, or you know the mother to be dead, here are a few guidelines:
- KEEP YOUNG OPOSSUMS WARM. Place the opossums in a box lined with soft rags and close the lid. They are very good climbers, so make certain that the lid is secure. If you have a heating pad, turn it on low and place half the box on top of the pad
- Place the box in a warm, dark, quiet area away from people and pets
- Should you have to keep the baby opossums overnight until you can get them to a licensed rehabilitator, you may attempt to re-hydrate them, ONCE they have warmed up, you may make a 50/50 solution of either Pedialyte OR Gatorade and water. After the little opossums have warmed up, you can try to carefully give them drops of this warmed liquid with a syringe. Do not force them, if they won’t swallow. To do so can cause aspiration, which can be fatal
- Do not attempt to give them ANY type of formula or milk. If the baby opossums still have their eyes closed, they will need to be stimulated to urinate and defecate. After hydrating, gently wipe their genital area with a cotton ball, slightly moistened with warm water
- If the baby you have found is 4″ long or longer, has its eyes opened and isn’t lethargic, you may give it a little applesauce in a shallow lid. These emergency feeding instructions are only good for the 24-hour period it might take you to get the orphan to a licensed rehabilitator.