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10 Surprising Facts About Opossums: Tree Dwellers and More

Opossums: The Surprising Tree Dwellers

Opossums are known for their catchy tagline “playing dead,” but did you know that these deceptively clever animals are excellent tree climbers too? In this article, we’ll explore the physical characteristics and behavior of opossums, their benefits and problems to humans, and discover fascinating facts about their life in trees.

Physical Characteristics

Opossums have several unique physical features that make them distinct from other mammals. They have pouches that serve as a protective space for their young, sharp claws, opposable toes, and footpads that provide them with an excellent grip while climbing trees.

Additionally, they have a conical head, coarse fur, and a tapered tail that is the source of their balance and agility.


When it comes to behavior, opossums are quite impressive. While they are known to play dead, opossums also hiss and bare their teeth when threatened.

They are opportunist omnivores and scavengers, meaning they will eat almost anything, including insects, small animals, fruits, vegetables, and carrion. They are excellent tick killers, making them valuable in some ecosystems.

Benefits and Problems of Having Opossums Around

Opossums have some benefits to humans, but they can also pose problems. They are great scavengers and can clean up areas by eating dead animals and insects, protecting humans by reducing the vermin population.

However, they can also carry external parasites and bacterial diseases that can be transmitted to humans. Additionally, they can carry a parasite that causes Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis, a disease that can kill horses.

Their excrement can also be problematic.

Opossums and Trees

Despite opossums’ reputation as ground dwellers, they are actually excellent climbers. This ability allows them to escape predators and find food, rest, and den in high places.

Their opposable toes, footpads, and strong grip make them well-suited to life in trees.

Tree Climbing Abilities

Opossums’ grip allows them to climb trees with relative ease, using branches or the trunk itself. This climbing ability makes them adept at escaping predators, including larger mammals and birds of prey.

They can also use trees as a resting place or a den since they tend to sleep during the day (they are nocturnal animals).

Tree Eating Habits

Opossums are known to raid fruit tree crops and eat the fruits, flowers, and leaves found in trees. This diet can lead to defoliation of the tree, meaning the loss of leaves.

However, opossums typically eat a minimal amount of the tree, and their diet consists mostly of animal and insect protein.

Tree Nests and Winter Habits

Opossums nest in trees during winter, choosing a nest site that is isolated from other animals. They are known for building their nest close to man-made structures such as houses, barns, or sheds.

They will use materials such as leaves, grass, or straw found nearby to line their nest, protecting them from the cold winter months.


In conclusion, opossums are fascinating animals with unique physical abilities and behaviors. They are adept climbers that eat fruits, flowers, and leaves found in trees, make trees their homes during winter, and have both benefits and problems for humans.

While some people may not appreciate opossums’ presence, their role as scavengers and tick killers make them valuable contributors to their ecosystem. Understanding their behavior and habits may help encourage coexistence with these fascinating creatures.

Opossums: The Wild and Wonderful

In this article, we’ve explored the physical characteristics and behavior of opossums, their benefits and problems to humans, and their life in trees. Now, let’s delve into two additional topics related to opossums: why they’re not good pets and some miscellaneous facts that might astound you.

Opossums as Pets

While they may look cute and cuddly, opossums are not suitable pets. They are wild animals, and some states require permits to own one.

Furthermore, their specialized diet makes them difficult to care for, and they could be aggressive towards other pets in the household. Additionally, opossums can have a hard time adjusting to captivity, and their weaker immune system makes them susceptible to illness.

One of the main reasons opossums make poor pets is that they are wild animals that require special care. They require a diet that is high in animal protein and low in nuts and fruits.

Many pet owners find it difficult to provide the balanced diet that opossums need. Additionally, opossums can be aggressive with other pets or even humans, particularly if they feel threatened.

Another reason opossums are not good pets is that they require a lot of space and stimulation. A small cage or insufficient space can lead to boredom, which can cause them to become destructive or depressed.

In the wild, opossums have a vast range and semi-arboreal lifestyle that requires them to climb trees, forage for food, and explore. They cannot recreate this lifestyle in a domestic setting.

Miscellaneous Opossum Facts

Pronunciation and Marsupial Status

Opossums are members of the suborder Marsupialia, a type of mammal that gives birth to a less developed offspring that usually continues to develop outside the mother’s body. A common species of opossum found in North America is the Virginia Opossum, whose scientific name is “Didelphis virginiana.” The word Didelphis translates to “double womb,” indicating the unique reproductive system of marsupials vs.

placental mammals.

Jumping Abilities and Tree Hangings

Contrary to popular belief, opossums are not great jumpers. Their relatively short legs, combined with their weight and bulk, make jumping for them nearly impossible.

Thus, opossums rely on their climbing abilities to move quickly through their environment. They use their tail to assist in climbing trees and can even hang from their tails for short periods.

Opossums are altricial meaning babies are born undeveloped and require further care within their mother’s pouch. Joeys may hold onto their mother’s fur or hang from their tail to move from place to place.

Opossum Preferences and Cinnamon Attraction

Opossums are opportunistic omnivores, meaning they aren’t picky when it comes to food. They eat everything from garbage to roadkill to fresh fruits and carrion.

While they prefer to live in hollowed out trees, they are adaptable and will take shelter in other locations as well. Interestingly, opossums have been shown to have a favorable disposition towards cinnamon scent.

Researchers have found that opossums are attracted to the smell of cinnamon in food, perhaps because it masks the scent of rot and decay that they generally associate with food. This is an interesting factor to consider when trapping opossums in order to relocate them.

In conclusion, opossums are fascinating animals that have adapted to life in many different environments. They are not suitable pets and require special care and attention if kept in captivity.

By understanding their physical characteristics, behaviors, and preferences, we can better appreciate and protect these creatures in the wild. In conclusion, opossums are remarkable creatures with unique physical abilities, interesting behaviors, and adaptable lifestyles.

While we may have discovered some surprising facts about these animals, we’ve also learned about the potential problems they can pose to humans, particularly when kept as pets. Understanding the importance of opossums in their natural ecosystem can help us appreciate their role in maintaining a healthy and balanced environment.

By providing them with the space and resources they need to thrive, we can help ensure the continued survival of these fascinating animals for many years to come.

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