This maligned marsupial definitely suffers from an image problem – it is frequently perceived as a giant, dirty, scavenging rat rather than a cute creature of the wild. The Virginia opossum is North America's only marsupial, and they do serve a valuable purpose in our environment. As omnivores, they help control insect and rodent populations, and they play a role as seed dispersers. They are also scavengers, so they help clean up garbage and carrion.
The opossum has opposable "thumbs." The opossum's "thumbs" (called halux) are on its rear feet (so, technically they're toes), and they are the reason for the opossum's formidable climbing skills. Primates and opossums are the only mammals with opposable first toes.
Opossums (and skunks) can be nuisance animals, but they seldom cause damage to property other than raiding garbage or eating pet food. They sometimes reside under buildings or in rock and wood piles. Discourage visits by taking appropriate precautions:
- In confined spaces skunks or opossums may be driven away by placing an ammonia-soaked towel in the den. - Install a one-way door until you are sure the animal(s) have left, then permanently seal the entrance. - An animal that becomes trapped in a window well will climb out if you place a rough board in the well that extends to the top. - If an animal gets into the house, open a door and calmly allow it to exit.