Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Urban opossums in the garage

This afternoon, detroit dog's spouse was cleaning out the garage. He pulled all kinds of things out of the corner, and as he positioned the broom and took a small swipe at a pile of leaves, out came running 6 little baby opossums. Surprise! Four ran under the never-used lawnmower, one climbed up fencing to nowhere, and one dug a little deeper into the leaves. The spouse ran inside.

What to do?

Well, we went back out and tried to recreate some semblance of the small dark space that they'd called home. We didn't touch the babes, who are old enough to no longer live in their mom's pouch (opossums are the only marsupials in north America). Keep in mind that we did not want the animals separated from their mom (who wasn't present), and we didn't want them dead.

I called the Michigan Humane Society Wildlife Department and asked what to do? They told me that opossum moms move their litter every 2 - 3 weeks, so they'd soon vacate the premises. But, if we want them out sooner, she said to keep a light on and/or a radio playing; opossums like the dark and the quiet.

We're going to keep things as they usually are around here, and will check back in a few days to see if they've relocated. I am a little worried, though, since the mother didn't appear to be there. Having said that, the babies looked very healthy and moved around just fine (the one was climbing some fencing about four feet up). I'll update this post to let you know what's going on with the critters.

Where to learn more about the lovely (and highly useful) Opossum: National Opossum Society, the Opossum Society of the United States, and The Humane Society of the US wildlife page. I really like the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's Living with Wildlife page.

Quick opossum facts:

  • mice, rats, and carrion (good news around here), and snails, slugs, spiders, cockroaches, and insects ("carrion" is dead animals), as well as over-ripe/rotting fruit or vegetables (as opposed to fresh)
  • ...score better than dogs (and about as well as pigs) on learning and discrimination tests
  • ...are more resistant to rabies than any mammal (including humans), and do not carry parvovirus and distemper (possibly due to their low body temps)
  • are fairly docile, and not aggressive or vicious though they may appear so, however, just before falling into a catatonic state that lasts from minutes to hours ("playing opossum"; they will stiffen and be still and appear dead - even if you pick them up)
  • ...get along with cats just fine (they seem to have a mutual respect for each other and just ignore each other)
  • ...opossums do not dig! They can't; opossums have no "fingernails." Their paws are too soft to dig, so if you see them in or at a hole, it is one that was dug by a different animal. They do have "thumbs" on their hind paws.
Sounds worth building a home for! (at least in urban and suburban areas.)

For wildlife questions, contact the Michigan Humane Society Wildlife Department, located at the MHS Rochester Hills Center for Animal Care, at (248) 852-7420 ext. 224. MHS Wildlfe Dept. Hours (7 days a week): Tuesday - Friday, 11:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. and Saturday - Monday, 11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

P.S. I don't recall which web site the above photo is from, but the photographer's name is on the photo.


  1. Wonderful post! Great information about the sadly misunderstood opossum.

    We rescued a poor opossum babe from our swimming pool. Fortunately there was a person nearby that took in opossums for rehab. She later released them when of age or medically treated.

    The California Avacado farmers value opossums on their large properties, since rats are such a problem.

    Strange how these poor little creatures bring out the "yikes" in so many as they grab a broom.

    So glad you are letting nature takes its course. Bravo!

  2. One of my dog Ranger's happiest moments was when he had a big fat oppossum in his jaws. He put it down, figured it was a goner and ran to the back door to tell us about his good luck. Turning back to his find he saw it scampering away just fast enough to squeeze beneath the fence to safety with the encouragement of Ranger's cold nose.

  3. Hey DD, You might want to contact Squirrelmama ( as she knows quite a lot about backyard creatures. She cares for squirrels, but also Prairie Dogs and may have some information regarding opossums. They are adorable babes though, aren't they?


  4. I didn't realize that opossums ate carrion. That could in part explain why they seem to so often end up as carrion (nibble roadkill, become roadkill). That's why I'm always thrilled to see a live one around here (near Windsor, ON). I had one cross my backyard last summer with a baby on its back, what a treat! Just discovered your blogs (via poetikat, actually), lots of cool stuff to see.


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