OK, so opossums are not the most adorable animals. At least when they are adults.
But they are beneficial and, as writer Elaine Godrey notes in the The Atlantic, there’s probably much you do not know about the common American opossum (aka the Virginia opossum).
First, let’s get a few things straight. Opossums do, in fact, play dead when threatened; they do not hang upside down by their tails. Dozens of different opossum species can be found in the Western Hemisphere, but only one lives here in North America. This is Didelphis virginiana—given name, Virginia opossum. Possums, sans O, do exist; furrier and slightly more squirrel-like than opossums, they live in Australia and were once thought to be the same as our Virginia opossum. They are not—but they are both marsupials. Experts believe that early relatives of the Virginia opossum waltzed over to Australia way back when the continents were joined, millions of years ago.
Today, the Virginia opossum can be found basically all over North America: in cities and suburbs, fields and forests. One interloping opossum was recently tossed out of a Brooklyn bar. She thrives alongside humans, and she thrives without them, too. In his 2016 essay titled “Everything What’s Wrong of Possums,” the writer Daniel M. Lavery wondered what, exactly, an opossum eats: “IS IT FRUIT? IS IT … NIGHT DIRT? IS IT OTHER RATS?” The answer is yes. The opossum shovels up all of those things like the Dyson of the natural world. She savors carrion, cockroaches, earthworms, and insect exoskeletons. She feasts on small mice, and ticks that attach themselves to her hide. In cities she gobbles down rotten vegetables, bones, and greasy paper from your garbage. She scavenges—she cleans the streets! Opossums “have their own job,” Donna Holmes Parks, a biology professor at the University of Idaho, told me. And for all that hard work, she added, “they deserve to be admired.”
You can read the rest here.