The last couple of winters we have had opossums visit our home wildlife feeding station, near Lake Waconia, eating cracked corn and sunflower seeds like the chickadees, juncos and gray and red squirrels.

Their appearance is a surprise because they are almost entirely nocturnal in habit and therefore seldom seen. No doubt the ones we saw were hungry animals.

The animal’s range was once limited to the southeastern part of the United States. They have lived in extreme southern Minnesota for about a century, but have expanded their range considerably in the past 30 years, and are now seen in the northern parts of the state. They like woodlands and agricultural areas, and are known to show up in the city, too. A true opportunist among wild mammals, the opossum might make its home in almost any shelter in which it can be dry and safe from enemies — even in or under old buildings.

Adult opossums are the size of house cats, have short legs and are grayish-white. They also have pink noses, leaflike thin, bald ears, and a long hairless prehensile tail that can be wrapped around tree limbs for balance. They can even hang from their tails for a short time. Opossums are omnivorous and eat almost anything organic, including fruits, nuts, eggs, insects, worms, carrion and garbage.

Their predators include dogs, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, hawks and owls. Opossums are slow-moving, so if you or your dog chase one it will seek safety up a tree or in a brush pile. If retreat is out of the question, it may “play possum,” that is, remain still and secrete a foul-smelling scent.

 

Jim Gilbert is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.