Thursday, March 22, 2018

Phillip Elden on the Opossum

The opossum, or colloquially, ‘possum, is a small mammal native to North America, explains Phillip Elden. However, it made its arrival in the Pacific Northwest and specifically Oregon sometime in the early 20th century. Its introduction to the area was most likely the result of people keeping the animals as pets and inadvertently releasing them into the wild.

The opossum is an adaptable creature and can make use of many types of resources. They can eat virtually anything and have very little problem disturbing a garden or trash can, says Phillip Elden. Unfortunately, they are often considered a nuisance by homeowners who may be intimidated by this creature’s reputation for self-defense.

Phillip Elden explains that as adaptable as the opossum is, it has numerous predators to fear. This includes owls, bobcats, and coyotes. The opossum’s first line of defense is its ability to play dead. It does this by lying stiffen and motionless and excreting a foul-smelling substance from their anal glands, which tells potential predators that their dinner has gone bad. This is where the term “playing possum” comes from.

According to Phillip Elden, opossum are nocturnal and solitary. Although they are the size of a large house cat, they are rarely seen out in the open. Opossums tend to live in areas in close proximity to water, such as lakes and streams. They are known to take over rabbit burrows and may take shelter in rock piles, hollow trees, and tipped trash cans.

The opossum is considered an invasive species.

Phillip Elden advises homeowners to stay away from possums found on their property, even if they suspect them to be orphaned. He suggests calling a local animal rehabilitation center for opossums less than 7 inches long – not including tail length -- as these may be juvenile animals that are unable to care for themselves.