Opossums are a much loved creature, known the world over for their loveable demeanor, their somewhat disheveled appearance, and their unusual trait for fainting and playing dead – the root of the phrase ‘playing possum’.
But when it comes to the actual facts surrounding this animal, there are many aspects to them that might leave people surprised.
The Physical Traits Of The Opossum
Known for their light colored fur, their pink noses, and their often hairless tails, many people are familiar with what an opossum looks like from a distance, but they probably don’t know some of the specific aspects of their anatomy.
How Many Teeth Do They Have?
For generally placid animals, opossums have around 50 teeth, 18 of which are incisors, and the rest of which are premolars (12), molars (16), and sharp canines (4) designed for tearing meat.
This is because they are omnivores, and follow a scavenger lifestyle that sees them consuming anything and everything they happen across.
This could be insects, worms, small rodents, or even leftover human food, and garbage that they find during their hunts.
They also eat plant material and vegetables, making them one of the most versatile creatures around, and making them expertly designed for survival in the wild.
How Big Are Opossums?
Most adult opossums are around the size of a housecat, making them one of the larger small mammals you might find in the wild – second only to the fox and their subspecies.
Do Opossums Have Hands?
Like raccoons, opossums have an opposable fifth digit on each of their paws, allowing them to grab and manipulate objects, or carry things they have scavenged.
This in many ways has helped to adhere them to humans, as like the raccoon, they seem vaguely anthropomorphized due to their human-like ability to manipulate objects.
The species are also sexually dismorphic, with the males be larger and heavier than the females.
The males also have forked penises, like all marsupials, and the females nurture their young in pouches on their bodies, where the fetus gestates for a period of 125 days, before they leave the pouch.
When it comes to lifespan, the opossum can live for approximately one to two years, which isn’t a long time, even for rodents and marsupials.
However, this figure is based on their longevity in the wild, and is naturally lower because of the opossums’ status as prey to many dangerous creatures.
They are also at risk of death by humans, either through extermination due to their reputation as vermin, and also through road accidents, when they get struck by cars.
Despite being versatile in terms of diet/lifestyle, the expansion of humanity into rural areas has damaged many habitats and breeding grounds.
What Temperament Do Opossums Have?
Despite their reputation for being somewhat cowardly, and feigning death (playing possum), opossums do have the capability to defend themselves from predators if the situation calls for it.
When threatened, the males in particular will make a deep growling noise to warn off predators, and warn other opossums of the danger.
The act of playing possum is an involuntary genetic trait that develops in the adolescence of the opossum.
They do not have any control over this action, and is an evolutionary response to external stressors, or the prospect of danger.
When this process happens, the animals lips draw back, their teeth become exposed, they begin foaming at the mouth, and a foul smell is emitted by the anal gland, to give the impression that they are dead, or at the very least are an unattractive option for a predator.
Once in this state, they can be prodded, lifted off the ground, and rolled onto their backs, but they will remain motionless and unconscious for an undisclosed amount of time.
Most normal carnivores will not choose to eat dead creatures, so this act is usually enough to leave them clear of danger, before coming to around 4 minutes to 4 hours later once the threat has passed.
Opossums live a generally solitary and nomadic lifestyle, spending much of their time hunting alone. Most will spend their entire lives close to specific sources of food and water, and will likely feed and rest with other opossums.
It is also very common for families of opossums with young to sleep and hunt together, at least until the young are older and able to scavenge for food themselves.
Most will form burrows in the crawl spaces and insulation of urban housing, but are generally seen in the wild, where they will form elaborate burrows in woody areas.
Can Opossums Be Dangerous?
Of course, any cornered animal can become dangerous when left no other option – even a creature like the opossum.
However, the threat they pose is generally limited with regards to humans. They are known to bare their teeth when threatened, but their main response is to play possum until the danger has passed.
The main threat they can pose to human life is their propensity to spread disease, but this is limited, and most wild opossums do not carry anything that is too dangerous to human beings.
They can however pose threats to livestock and domestic pets. This is not an act of aggression per se, rather how any animal would act when it perceives a threat.
In this case they have been known to bare their claws and teeth, evening harming other animals – but this is by no means their first plan of action.
And there we have it, everything you need to know about the opossum, their teeth, and their physical characteristics.
The opossum is a remarkable and complex creature, and despite the loveable reputation that has been cultivated in the media, they also have some less attractive traits that they employ when they need to defend themselves.