Whether you love them or hate them, opossums (often referred to as possums) are one of America’s most famous animals, and they certainly have a lot of character.
Although they are most well-known for scavenging, opossums are omnivores with a very diverse and opportunistic diet, and they are natural predators as well. There is a lot more variety to the opossum’s hunting and scavenging behavior than you might think.
Read ahead to discover all you need to know about the many ways that the opossums of North America fill their stomachs, and how they hung and scavenge for their meals.
What Kind of Diet Do Opossums Have?
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When it comes to the diet of the opossum, almost everything is on the table. They are opportunistic omnivores, and they will eat just about anything that they can find. They are also highly adaptable and are one of the very few species that have made themselves completely at home in the cities and towns of North America.
The natural diet of an opossum includes fruits, nuts, and plants, but they certainly like to get as much meat as they possibly can. Though they might be able to survive without it, meat is a really important part of a healthy diet for an opossum, as it is how they get the majority of the protein and fat that they need to survive.
Do Opossums Mainly Eat Carrion, or Do They Also Hunt?
One of the most famous traits of the opossum is their scavenging nature. They will eat almost anything they can find lying around, from roadkill to garbage, but do they hunt as well?
You might be surprised to hear that opossums are relatively adept hunters, as well as opportunistic scavengers. They mainly hunt small prey animals like rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and birds, as they don’t like having to put in too much effort.
They also eat quite a lot of insects and worms, on top of anything they can scavenge up from their surroundings.
Carrion is certainly a major source of food for opossums when they can get it, though, as they don’t have to expend any energy chasing it down. Hunting carries the inherent risk of failure, so finding animals that are already dead is a much easier meal for an opossum.
Do Opossums Ever Eat Pets, Like Cats or Dogs?
Although they can be a little aggressive, opossums rarely eat larger pets, like cats or dogs. They can get into fights, however, particularly when they feel cornered or threatened, and they have been known to bite pets out of self-defense.
Most cats and dogs are too large for a possum to consider as food. Smaller pets, however, may be more at risk. Opossums often eat rodents like rats and mice in the wild, and they feed on amphibians and reptiles as well.
If you have a pet frog or a hamster, for example, then you definitely want to keep them safe from any potential interactions with a wild possum.
Will Opossums Prey on Small Rodents?
Small rodents can be difficult for an opossum to catch, but they will certainly eat them if they manage to chase them down. They are much more likely to prey on much smaller rodents, though, that won’t put up as much of a fight.
Rats, mice, lemmings, voles, and smaller chipmunks or squirrels are relatively common prey for an opossum. Larger mammals, on the other hand, like groundhogs, gophers, and rabbits, are a bit too big for most opossums to take on. Something as intimidating as a beaver, or a muskrat would be more likely to scare off an opossum than end up as dinner for one.
At the end of the day, possums are relatively lazy animals, and they are looking for an easy meal. Small rodents are often fast enough to escape from the clutches of an opossum, so they will look to eat something slower if they can get it.
Do Opossums Eat Insects, Slugs, and Worms?
A much simpler meal for an opossum to get its hands on is an insect or something slow-moving like a slug or a worm. In fact, snails and slugs are among the favorite foods of opossums, because contain a lot of protein, and they are unlikely to get away.
Insects are also high in protein, if a little harder to catch, so possums will certainly eat them if they get the chance. In the wild, insects make up a large proportion of the opossum’s natural diet.
Cockroaches, crickets, beetles, and grasshoppers are among the most common insects that opossums feed on, but they will also eat smaller insects like ants as well.
Is It True That Opossums Eat Ticks?
You might have heard rumors that opossums are natural tick repellents, and you’ll be glad to find out that this is true! Ticks are strangely a favorite snack for an opossum, and one individual can eat up to 5,000 of them in a single season.
Do Opossum Prey on Reptiles and Amphibians?
Opossums will hunt many of the different reptiles and amphibians that live across North America. In general, they will eat almost any of them if they can catch it, but some are riskier for a possum to chase than others.
Frogs, toads, newts, and smaller lizards are definitely on the menu for an opossum if they aren’t quick enough to get away, as they are mostly harmless. You might be surprised to hear, though, that opossums will also eat snakes.
In fact, opossums have a natural immunity to most snake venom, so they can hunt even the more dangerous snakes, like rattlesnakes and copperheads. They are resistant enough to be able to survive a rattlesnake bite, though they might prefer to seek out something a little less threatening.
Can Opossums Catch and Eat Fish and Sea Food?
Although they are not exactly designed for life in the water, opossums are pretty good swimmers. Despite this, they are rarely fast enough to catch and eat fish, but they will certainly give it a go if they are hungry enough. It’s not unheard of for possums to snatch goldfish from a pond in a yard.
They are much more likely to try and hunt underwater prey in small ponds or shallow streams than in deeper water, though, and they very rarely venture into the sea.
Will Opossums Prey on Poultry?
Opossums will certainly prey on poultry if they get the chance, even though a lot of larger domestic birds can defend themselves from an attack. The poultry that is most at risk from a possum attack are chickens, particularly smaller birds, and young chicks.
Geese, ducks, and turkeys are harder to catch, and more likely to fend off a hungry opossum, but their babies might not be as lucky. Opossums also love to eat eggs when they can get them, so they can really cause havoc in a coup.
Even a small amount of deterrent can be enough to keep poultry safe from possums, as they will often look for an easier way to feed themselves rather than go up against a large goose or tangle with an electric fence.
Will Opossums Eat the Bones Of Their Prey?
We’ve established by now that opossums aren’t likely to pass up a meal of any kind, but you might be surprised to hear how much of the animal they actually consider to be food. When a possum eats an animal, it doesn’t leave anything behind.
They will eat all of the meat, the organs, and even the bones. This actually makes them a vital part of the food chain, as they clear away the entire carcass of deceased animals, which prevents them from rotting and spreading diseases or parasites in the local environment.
Do Opossums Hunt Wild Birds?
Wild birds are not easy to catch, but opossums will hunt and eat them if they can. They are able to climb trees with ease due to their two big toes which act almost like opposable thumbs, and they will definitely eat a small bird if they can catch one unawares.
The birds that opossums tend to hunt are smaller species, like goldfinches, sparrows, or woodpeckers. Most birds are too fast for an opossum to catch if they can see one coming, but as nocturnal hunters, possums can sneak up on birds while they are sleeping.
Large birds of prey, like hawks, eagles, and vultures are usually too much for an opossum to handle. If a possum comes across a condor or a bald eagle, for example, they are more likely to become a meal themselves.
Do Opossums Seek Out Birds’ Nests for Eggs?
There are few meals that opossums enjoy more than birds’ eggs. As excellent climbers, they will actively seek out nests to try and get their hands on the eggs inside. They will also feed on any baby birds that are unlucky enough to still be inside any nests that they can reach.
Most bird species will defend their nests with their lives, but many are too small to scare off an opossum, and the marsupial is intelligent enough to lay in wait until the adult birds are asleep or out hunting before they strike.