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Virginia Opossum Virginia Opossum

Opossums do not normally cause damage to a home, but they can create some problems. They may use an attic for a den and eat bird seed that has fallen on the ground. Virginia Opossum

General Characteristics
The adult Virginia opossum (Didelphis marsupialis) weighs about 7 pounds. Its face is elongated, narrow and cone shaped.  It has black, hairless ears that are leathery in texture and tipped in pink or white. The tail is naked and scaly, and the feet are shaped like hands.  Dense underfur is white with grayish tips, and the guard hairs are dark gray or black, but from a distance, opossums appear grayish in color. Some individuals may have underfur tipped in brown, and these animals will have a brownish cast rather than gray. The opossum has black, beady eyes set on a white head, and the feet are black with pink or white toes. The inner toe of each hind foot is like a thumb. An albino variation is not an uncommon sight. These varieties will have pink eyes, and white ears and feet. The woolly pouch on the female’s abdomen is used for carrying and nourishing her newborn young. The skull of the opossum belies its ancient lineage because it contains 50 teeth, the most of any Indiana mammal.

Food Habits
Aside from their overwhelming reproductive powers, a reason for opossum survival is their ability to eat nearly anything, vegetable or animal, in any state of decomposition. They serve as scavengers, thriving on foods discarded or rejected by other animals, as well as garbage from humans. They eat eggs and young of fellow animals and occasionally kill sleeping poultry and ground nesting birds. These items are rounded out with nuts, acorns, persimmons and corn. They do not hibernate, but amble forth in search of food on cold, winter nights.

Distribution
Opossums occur in each county of Indiana, but their numbers can be reduced in the northern tier of counties due to severe winter conditions. It is not uncommon to find individuals with tips of their ears and tails blunted from frostbite following a harsh winter.

Reproduction
The breeding season for opossums begins in February. Young are born within two weeks after mating. From 10 to 20 offspring leave the birth canal and crawl to the female’s pouch. Helpless and less than an inch long, they struggle to gain possession of one of the 13 teats contained in the pouch. The successful young remain attached to the teats for a month before they begin to leave the pouch for short periods. As they continue to grow, they are forced to abandon the pouch, and the mouse-sized youngsters move to the mother’s back, often clinging to her tail as she wanders in search of food. Litters are not produced at any particular time but are born over a relatively long period from early spring into summer. Females can produce two litters per year. The young remain with the female for about three months. The final litter of the season may be traveling with the female when the first litter of the next year is born.

Prevention and Control
Turn the radio on at night, place it under a garbage can overnight, and it may discourage opossums from approaching.

Keep bird feeders and garbage cans in at night. Place a small dish of ammonia in the bottom of an empty garbage can to help discourage them.

If the opossum is already in your chimney or attic, place bright lights or a pan of ammonia in the attic to encourage the opossum(s) to leave. If the mother has had her young in your chimney already, contact a licensed nuisance wild animal control operator for professional assistance. Once the opossums(s) leave the chimney, install a chimney cap. Also, identify and seal other attic entries after evicting the opossum.

Trim overhanging tree limbs to prevent easy access to your roof and attic.

Resident landowners and tenants can live-trap an opossum that is causing damage on their own property without a permit from the DNR. The opossum must be euthanized or released within the county of capture on property in which you have permission. In order to prevent the spread of disease, the DNR encourages homeowners to safely and humanely euthanize the opossums, if possible. Live-traps can be purchased from hardware stores and garden centers. If you do not want to trap the opossum yourself, contact a licensed nuisance wild animal control operator.