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What Are the Main Components of an Opossum Diet?

By Cindy Quarters
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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An opossum, commonly called a ‘possum, is an animal that is native to the United States as well as to many other places in the world. The 'possum is nocturnal, which means it is active at night. This mammal is known for falling over and playing dead when in a very frightening or threatening situation. The opossum diet is varied because they are omnivorous and will eat almost anything that presents itself to them, either dead or alive.

This is a marsupial, an animal that carries its young in the mother’s pouch until the baby is old enough to be out on its own. In the case of ‘possums, they live first in their mother’s pouch and then cling to her back for an additional four to eight weeks until they are completely ready to leave her care. The babies drink their mother’s milk when they are young, like all mammals, but as they get older they being to eat a typical adult opossum diet.

Despite the fact that opossums appear slow and clumsy, they can move very quickly when they wish to. This animal needs to be fast to capture some parts of the opossum diet, including roof rats, snakes and mice. This gray, cat-sized creature also eats all kinds of bugs, especially crickets, worms and cockroaches.

Not everything in the opossum diet moves quickly. They love to munch on snails and will eat virtually any insect they happen to spot. Since they are omnivorous, these mammals also eat all kinds of plant matter as well. They are very fond of fruit, especially old, overripe fruit that has fallen to the ground. Much of the opossum diet actually contributes to keeping the environment cleaned up since the fruit they eat would rot where it falls if not eaten, plus they will eat dead animals in addition to everything else.

When these marsupials live near people, the opossum diet often includes cat food and, to a lesser extent, dog food. People that wish to discourage them from making themselves at home under the house or on the porch should not leave pet food out at night. It is important to also pick up fruit that has fallen from trees in the yard. ‘Possums are good climbers, aided by their prehensile, or gripping, tails, but they are more likely to be attracted by fruit on the ground than by any hanging in the trees.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do opossums primarily eat in the wild?

Opossums are omnivores with a highly varied diet. In the wild, they primarily consume insects, small rodents, fruits, berries, and carrion. Their opportunistic feeding habits help control pests and clean up decomposing animals, playing a vital role in the ecosystem.

Can opossums be considered beneficial for gardens and yards?

Yes, opossums can be beneficial for gardens and yards. They eat unwanted pests such as slugs, beetles, and small rodents. Additionally, their consumption of overripe fruit and carrion helps in keeping the environment clean. However, they may sometimes rummage through trash or eat pet food if it's easily accessible.

Do opossums have any dietary preferences or restrictions?

Opossums are not particularly picky eaters, but they do have preferences. They tend to favor protein-rich foods like insects and small animals. While they have a robust digestive system that can handle many foods, they should not consume large amounts of human junk food, which can be harmful to their health.

How does the opossum's diet impact its role in the ecosystem?

The opossum's diet has a significant impact on the ecosystem. By consuming a wide range of insects and small vertebrates, they help control pest populations. Their scavenging habits also aid in the decomposition process, recycling nutrients back into the soil, which supports plant growth and maintains ecological balance.

Are opossums at risk of any health issues due to their scavenging nature?

Opossums have a robust immune system, particularly resistant to rabies. However, their scavenging nature can expose them to toxins and human-related waste, which can pose health risks. Ensuring that trash is properly secured can help mitigate these risks for opossums and other wildlife.

What should I do if I find an opossum foraging in my yard?

If you find an opossum foraging in your yard, it's best to leave it alone, as they are generally harmless and can help control pests. Ensure that pet food is kept indoors and garbage cans are secured to discourage them from seeking food in your space. If you have a persistent opossum problem, consider contacting a wildlife expert for humane removal options.

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Discussion Comments

By Viranty — On May 14, 2014

@RoyalSpyder - They've been known to be very vicious, but in my opinion, they might decided to play dead before attacking, as that's one of their special traits. Some animals even prefer to run away before having a confrontation. However, as is the case with most animals, opossums won't bother you if you don't bother them.

By RoyalSpyder — On May 14, 2014

Speaking of opossums, does anyone know if they'll attack people when provoked? At night, I've seen some in my yard, and I've been wanting to shoo them way. However, I'm a little hesitant to do so.

By Euroxati — On May 13, 2014

As much as I dislike opossums, I find it interesting that they contribute to the environment through their eating habits. In fact, I also find this to be the case with a lot of nature's creatures. Whether it's skunks or even flies, they all play an essential role in keeping our environment clean. I also find it interesting that they'll eat dead animals on occasion. For such small critters, they have a relatively large diet.

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