If you find a baby possum abandoned on the side of the road somewhere, you probably shouldn’t pick them up before calling animal control. But what happens if you have no choice but to take them home to nurse them back to health? You might find yourself with an adorable conundrum on your hands. You might even find yourself wondering a few things about possum biology and behavior. For instance: can you feed baby possums? Should you feed them? And either way, what do possums eat?
What kind of possum are we talking about?
If you’re from Australia, a possum is a very different animal from the one Americans keep referring to as possums. What we are talking about is the opossum, America's only marsupial, and one that possesses very few similarities to its Aussie cousin. There are 65 different species of opossum in North America, according to the Opossum Society. The most common of these many marsupials is the Virginia opossum, which is the one we shall focus on today.
What do possums eat?
Frankly, when it comes to the opossum, the question “what do they eat?” doesn’t really seem appropriate. It might be more appropriate to ask “what don’t they eat?” Opossums have always had a bit of a bad reputation among suburban residents for being scavengers — which, of course, they are. But that doesn’t mean we should hold it against them. Especially because their versatile diets actually help us get rid of carrion (decaying dead animal bodies).
According to pest control company Terminix, opossums eat everything from dead animals to insects, rodents, birds, frogs, plants, fruit, and grain. They don’t just feed on the flesh of carrion or roadkill either. Possum diets require a high degree of calcium, which they can get from eating the skeletal remains of rodents and other dead creatures. Opossums will also eat cat food, dog food, and table scraps from our garbage cans. Unfortunately, it is this “taste for trash” that makes them more of a pest than a helper in the eyes of many.
How do possums eat so many different things?
Opossums are scavengers by evolution and opportunity. They are nocturnal but possess poor eyesight, which doesn’t really help when it comes to trying to find food. Luckily, they make up for this with great hearing and a very keen sense of smell. This has made them fairly successful opportunists, especially when they find themselves living in and around suburban and rural communities.
These remarkable marsupials possess other positive traits as well — though we will admit that most of these also have to do with them finding food. Opossums don’t just find food well, they can also remember where it is located for the next time. According to Landscape Architecture Magazine, possums scored higher than rats, rabbits, cats, and dogs in laboratory tests meant to recall where food was placed. That’s why it’s so hard to get rid of possums on your own — they remember where you keep the goods!
What do baby possums eat?
Adults may be great at scavenging, but baby opossums are not nearly as well-equipped. Like all marsupials, opossum mommies lack a placenta, so their young must grow and be kept in a pouch. Newborn opossums are about the size of a honey bee and will stay in their mother’s pouch for around 80 days before they are mature enough to begin scavenging on their own.
What to feed baby possums?
Once they are big enough to leave the pouch, baby possums can eat just about everything. You can feed them dog and cat food in moderation. You could also feed them insects like cockroaches, worms, slugs, and snails (one of their favorite foods). This is only pertinent if the baby is old enough, of course, and with an orphaned opossum, that isn’t always known.
According to the blog WildHeart, baby possums do not thrive on milk. For one, marsupial milk is very different from cow’s milk or formula. On top of that, baby possums don’t suckle like other animals, so attempting to bottle feed could cause them to aspirate and die. The point we’re trying to make here is that you, reader, are likely ill-equipped to feed or care for a baby possum on your own.
Should I feed a baby possum?
No, you really, really shouldn’t — not without some guidance, anyway, If you find a baby possum, either alone or attached to their deceased mother, you should contact your local animal control, veterinarian, or animal rescue right away. If the baby possum is alone and walking in the wilderness and you can’t help yourself, get a box with towels or old shirts, along with a wrapped heating pad or water bottle, and get them to an animal expert as quickly as possible. That is the best way to help them.