The word ‘Opossums’ denotes the group of marsupials residing in Australia, Sulawesi, and New Guinea. With 60 known species worldwide, Virginia Opossums are the most common and the only marsupial in North America.
Possums have always been seen as dirty scavengers, not appropriate to meddle in human societies. But then why are Possums popular as pets? What are the positive features of this animal to humans? What do Possums eat?
Because of their habit of eating anything, Possums act as free pest control for their lawns and farms. They possess some remarkable ability to find food anywhere. They can remember the exact spot it is located, which means they return to find the same food at the exact location.
According to a study published in Landscape Architecture Magazine, Possums scored higher than other animals like rabbits, cats, and dogs in laboratory tests to evaluate the ability of animals to recall food. Since these marsupials are known to ingest anything, the question that most often arises is, What do Possums Eat, or is there anything they do not eat?
What Do Possums Eat?
Unlike other scavengers, Possums are not picky eaters, they can eat and digest anything, including dead animals, slugs, beetles, snails, cockroaches, lizards, rats, vegetables and fruits, snakes, birds eggs with shells, frogs, and even carrion. If available, these marsupials enjoy the luscious taste of sweet potatoes and yams.
For them, accessibility of food was never an issue because of their anatomical structure and feeding habits, making them opportunists as they eat whatever they find first.
Being nocturnal and having poor eyesight never hindered their hunt for food as they are built with a keen sense of smell and hearing and sharp claws used for digging, climbing, and capturing.
Attractive Foods For Possums
Besides scavenging on the garbage and dead animals, Possums, in particular, like to enjoy eating sweet things like fruits, marshmallows, peanut butter, and Jam.
They have a high requirement for calcium. Therefore, they eat the skeletal remains of the animals. Almost all of these marsupials are omnivores, but some, like common brushtail Possums, feed on plant matter such as Australian mistletoe and can even eat vegetables. A Herbivore Possum’s diet consists of toxic leaves, twigs, buds, and seeds.
Mountain Pygmy Possums have the most generalized diet consisting of Plum Wine, Snow Beard Heaths, and Fruit-bearing confined. While the Tasmanian Pygmy Possum feeds on pollen and nectar from Eucalyptus and Melaleuca, thus becoming a direct pollinator for these plants. On the other hand, Northern Brushtail Possums are likely to be found in your gardens as they live near urban areas and feed on leaves, seeds, flowers, and fruits.
Diet of Baby Opossums
Adults are well equipped with scavenging and searching for food items, but their honey bee-size newborn opossums stay in their mother’s pouch for about 80 days. They came outside their mother’s pouch only after they became mature enough to scavenge on their own.
Slugs, birds’ eggs, snails, worms, and cockroaches are some of the favourite diets of a baby Opossum. If you find an orphaned, hungry young opossum, try feeding them cat food or pet food; they will surely enjoy it.
Foods to Avoid Feeding Domestic Possums
For domestic Possums, you can feed them foods with high protein and low fat, cooked food, and certain vegetables.
The fact that these marsupials can eat almost anything is actual, but to an extent, for there are some foods you need to avoid giving them. These foods include Bread, Cake, Biscuits, raw meat, almonds, cheese, onions, dairy products, green potatoes, junk food, and cooked bones. Raw meat is typically hazardous for their health as it contains parasites such as Toxoplasma Gondii.
An excessive amount of supplemented food with pure forms of vitamin A or D is not recommended. Large quantities of fruits, canned cat food, chicken or other meats, and human baby cereals are not advisable foods for these marsupials.
If you have a young Possum, only feed them soy milk or any other non-vegan milk. Cow’s milk has lactose and can cause diarrhoea which slows their growth and ultimately cause death.
Why Do Possums Get Attracted to Gardens in Urban Areas?
The main reason why people think these marsupials are nasty is their behaviour of foraging through trash cans. They generally get attracted to your garden to find the food scraps if you have left them in the trash around your garden.
They are blinded by the odour of overflowing garbage cans, containers, or uncovered compost heaps and follow the food source to feed on. Moreover, if your garden is near a sewer, drainage, or river, you can expect more marsupials on your property as these creatures prefer to inhabit near water sources.
Some smells, especially cinnamon scents, invite these marsupials to your garden. This is why people use cinnamon scents or other such sweet scents to lure these creatures as bait.
Another reason people get aggravated by the presence of these marsupials is that they are known to eat cats. This, of course not true. These marsupials can only attack cats only if they sense it as easy prey, but chances are high that they get threatened by the presence of dogs and cats.
Possums as Beneficial Animals
Contrary to popular belief, Possums are gentle and clean creatures. They sometimes growl, hit, or in some rare cases, bite, but they are not aggressive. They prefer to faint or play dead in dangerous situations than harm you. Due to their feeding habits of foraging in the garbage, they help to clean gardens and make them pests-free. Opossums balance the food web in the ecosystem by acting as natural pest controllers for gardens as they feed on garden pests such as small rodents, beetles, and insects.
Possums are almost immune to snake venom. Thus, they control the snake population in urban areas by feeding on snakes. Research has found that the peptide found in possums can be used as an antivenom treatment. They can eliminate ticks and help fight against Lyme disease in houses. One possum can eat 4000 ticks in a season, fulfilling its role as a natural cleaner for household pests like ticks.
Can You Keep Possums as Pets?
Have you found an abandoned or injured Possum on the road, or are you considering buying a Possum because of their benefits?
Although Possums are calm creatures, like most wildlife, they are better to be left in the wild. Some states do not permit wildlife as a pet even if they allow it under a wildlife permit. You can keep injured wildlife as your pet till it becomes healthy.
Opossums carry human disease-causing pathogens such as Leptospirosis, Tuberculosis, relapsing fever, tularemia, spotted fever, coccidiosis, trichomoniasis, and Chagas disease. So it is generally advised not to handle an injured or abandoned opossum on your own and certainly not make them your pet. Instead, contact a wildlife professional who will help the opossum to rehabilitate in the wild. If the help takes time or you are in some remote area, do not try to touch the opossum with bare hands; instead, use a towel to handle them.
To know more about the wildlife in forests, visit this site.
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