One of the more robust backyard visitors is the opossum (Didelphis virginiana). It is not native in California, having been brought here from the eastern United States in the early twentieth century.

Opossums are nocturnal and therefore usually seen after dark. They will establish a territory and a route that they will follow. Often in search of cat food left out, they may be noticed by the volume with which they chew dry cat food. They are also attracted by fruit dropped from fruit trees. They are not frightened easily and will stand their ground and hiss loudly if cornered. If sufficiently frightened, they may "play dead," but this is not a voluntary decision to try to fool you; they are lapsing involuntarily into a coma-like state. This instinctive loss of consciousness can prevent them from fleeing from danger and puts them at significant risk of being hit by cars.

Opossum literally means "white animal". They are doubly unique in that they are the only North American marsupial and also the only mammal to have a prehensile tail.

Opossums very rarely carry rabies because of their unusually low (for mammals) body temperatures. However, they are known to carry diseases like leptospirosis, tuberculosis, relapsing fever, tularemia, spotted fever, toxoplasmosis, coccidiosis, and trichomoniasis. They are generally not particularly dangerous compared to most wild animals. Having an opossum about is actually a very effective way to eliminate the snails from one's garden.

Opossums can be domesticated and potty trained. It is recommended that you do not try this with an adult opossum, but if one finds an injured baby opossum, nursing it back to health and either keeping it as a pet or shleffing it off to someone else as a pet (your benevolent attention may have rendered it unqualified for the rough life of the Davis urban wilds) might be a larf. Once you run out of snails to feed them, they also like hardboiled eggs. Kris Fricke once had a pet opossum.

Note: possum is a regional shortening of opossum.

I don't think this is true. Where is the proof for this? I think people are just confused on how to spell it in N. America.NiareeHopelian

For one reference, check out the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language entry for possum. They label it as being "Chiefly Southern U.S." Though these regional shortenings often come about, at least in part, because of a disregard/ignorance of the pronunciation reflected in the proper spelling.JevanGray

UC Davis and opossums

UC Davis is an active place for those who care about opossums. The Opossum Society of the United States, in Irvine, CA, boasts members from the UC Davis Vet school and sometimes hosts events and workshops at UC Davis. For more information on all things opossum, their website is a helpful resource.


I met an opossum. Look how soft he looks. TarZxf's size 14 foot and opossum good night, opossum.


For more info on other local wild animals see Town Wildlife.


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2005-01-23 22:55:32   I once killed a possum by accidentally running it over whilst riding my bike at night. It was both scary and sad. —PaulLanzi

2005-01-23 23:45:51   Maybe the possums around here are smaller or something, but I have scars that dispute the "are not particularly dangerous". Ever see what their mouth looks like open?—JabberWokky

2005-01-24 02:38:44   There ain't no one who don't call 'em possums! —BrentLaabs

2005-01-24 13:50:47   Yes I am have seen "what theiri mouths look like open" - they have sixty teeth. I've even received some friendly gnaws from my pet possum. —KrisFricke

2005-03-02 20:25:35   An opossum is a wild animal. Keeping one as a pet is illegal under the CA Fish & Game Code. —LornaBernard

  • Yeah, but the CA DFG thinks that ferrets are also wild animals, and has banned them as well. Considering how darn tame ferrets are, I think that the DFG doesn't have much moral authority here. Considering how many happy (but paranoid) ferret owners there are out there, I'd say you're in good company owning a pet banned by the CA DFG. —EricKlein

    • I think the CA DFC is more worried about potential ferret escapes wreaking havoc on the local bird and amphibian population, in a similar fashion that the mongoose is in Hawaii. Though you could make the same statement about feral cats. —MatthewTom

      • I'm willing to make that assertion about outdoor domestic cats too. They are well known to devastate local wildlife. And yes the CA DFG regulations are about preventing invasives from causing a large amount of damage if accidentally released (Not all pet owners are responsible, hence the SPCA). Well known examples of this phenomenon: Red Eared Sliders, European Starlings... —AlexMandel

2005-06-09 13:47:24   Ugg! How about some respect for the opposums! Our only marsupial! Expect a new properly named page with pictures of non-dead opossums and useful information and links soon... —MarieBoisvert

2005-06-10 03:46:16   There are two cohorts of marsupials: Australidelphia and Ameridelphia. The common name for opossums in America is "opossum" and in Australia is "possum." This is to distinguish between the two cohorts and the distinct species they contain. They are both pronounced the same, so it all boils down to spelling. If you want to get technical, this page and all the references within should be renamed "opossum."—NiareeHopelian

2005-06-13 09:50:51   oh, possums —ArlenAbraham

2005-06-13 10:59:01   Interestingly enough, when I check in my dictionaries, the entries for opossum include a different pronunciation than possum. —JevanGray

2005-06-14 01:48:35   I challenge anyone to look at the pictures here and tell me opossums are not adorable. —KrisFricke

2005-06-14 01:55:31   They are also quite tasty. —GeorgeLewis

2005-08-02 08:06:16   We had a possum come in during the early morning hours, find the description here. —BlancheNonken

2005-08-15 19:52:53   The clicking 'possum came back last night. JeffreyNonken was awakened by the clicking at some godawful hour, woke up our older daughter and they ran outside to play with the little guy. A fine time was had by all except our 9 year old who was having a nightmare about pizza. —BlancheNonken

2005-12-29 12:37:35   Opossums very rarely carry rabies because of their unusually low (for mammals) body temperatures. However, they are known to carry diseases like leptospirosis, tuberculosis, relapsing fever, tularemia, spotted fever, toxoplasmosis, coccidiosis, trichomoniasis, and Chagas disease. They are also carriers of fleas and lice. Possum Pete hangs out in our back yard. I like to watch it, but I would never think of touching it! —AnaluciaCordova

  • Chagas disease, or American Trypanosomiasis, a protozoan disease, can only really be vectored mammals through true bugs of the family Reduviidae, and the subfamily Triatominae. This is because the parasite needs to complete it's life cycle in the bug. Unless you live in a thatched roof building infested with Reduvid bugs, you don't have to worry about Chagas disease. —MatthewTom

2009-11-18 10:40:10   I love oppossums and thought I was the only one! I assisted an injured baby one back to health—it would sneak into our cat door around 10pm and make a b-line for under our bed. I noticed a gash on it's head and started to put yogurt and catfood under there w/ a heating pad and bedding. It never peed or pooed or whatever and it always respectfully left by the time we woke up. It just needed a place to chill for a few weeks rather than be roaming about all night. The gig was up when it tried macking a bowl of ice cream on my bedside table....then i moved the bedding and everything to the covered back porch and it visited regularly. Happily ever after. —kettle

2013-10-30 05:04:46   I guess I have an illegal pet then..... I am in California and have a possum, her name is puddle. So cute.... And she is a baby.... Even more cute. I found her injured and she is having a lot of trouble walking, so I'm nursing her back to a happy healthy possum... —ChelseaRoseSouthwick