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  #11  
Old 08-29-2008
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I pick them up by the tail occasionally if they are pretty out of it. if they are pissed off I'll use my 3' catch pole. I read somewhere that the immune system of the opossum helps keep most of them rabies-free. I expect that the ones that do have rabies are probably somehow immune deficient.
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  #12  
Old 08-29-2008
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Opossums, IMHO, are one of the nicest little wild animals you'll ever handle. They only really have two forms of defence: (1) "open my mouth and look scary" and (2) "oh my god, that didn't work, play dead." The average opossum will bite only if ABSOLUTELY desperate. Myself, I have only been bitten once (in six years of handling them at least a couple times a week), tho that did puncture the skin. However, I really deserved it: I was holding a furry 40g baby under a faucet to wash several days of decayed chicken and feces from him (mom and babies got caught in a garbage can in 100-degree weather for four days; Mom and most of the babies died). I got distracted and he twisted around and nailed me. But wouldn't you have bitten me, too?

Here are my rambling thoughts on them:

(*) Opossums are easily the world's oldest living mammals: They were around at the time of the dinosaurs. They are also North America's only marsupial. Hence, they're quite interestingly different from the average mammal, both behaviourally and medically. For example, their "play dead" response is not controllable -- it's autonomic, like breathing or heartbeat.

(*) For preference, when handling, scruff them like a cat. Their neck is not very flexible and any grip on the neck/extreme upper back will make it impossible for them to bite you or wriggle away. My usual handling rhythm is (1) drop a towel over them, (2) scruff through the towel, (3) use the other hand to scoop towel under them and support their body, and then (4) off we go.

(*) Don't handle one by the tail unless you have no choice. It gives the little ones too much flexibility to rip themselves away from you or weasel around and start crawling up you. Adults do not support themselves by their tails alone (an artistic myth). Adult males or females with pouch young are heavy enough that you might dislocate the bones in their tail carrying them like that.

(*) Quick, what's the only dead animal that qualifies as an emergency call? A dead opossum, which may have live babies (called "joeys" like baby kangaroos) in the pouch or on the road. Check them ASAP. If you find only a few in the pouch, or none, look carefully around the scene for babies that may have wandered away and be hiding under bushes/in gutters/etc.

(*) Joeys that have nursed on a dead mom can get severe internal bacterial abcesses, even as long as a week or two later. They need antibiotics. If they're under 20g or not furry yet, they only have an 80% rehab mortality rate. Above 20g or with a little fur, the statistics flip and they have an 80% rehab SURVIVAL rate.

(*) Joeys have very complex nutritional and humidity requirements because of their enpouched status normally. Anything under 100g really, really needs to be raised by a rehabber to prevent bone disorders and permanent dry skin damage.

There are two national Opossum Societies: The Opossum Society of the U.S. (OSUS; www.opossumsociety.org) based in L.A. and the National Opossum Society (NOS; www.opossum.org) based back East. They both have very decided opinions about things and disagree with each other vehemently (which is why there are two of them), but both have their good points and most rehabbers are actually (quietly) members of both societies. From an ACO viewpoint, OSUS has a neato little flyer you can give children (http://www.opossumsocietyus.org/fun_for_the_joeys.htm), a very cute t-shirt design, and is based in God's Own Golden State. NOS, however, is very proactive about helping with care and will send you supplies like specialized orphan-feeding nipples for your syringes.

My last orphan chile project was this little guy:



Too cute, eh what?

P.S., the general thinking among rehabbers is that an opossum's normal body temperature (94 to 97 degrees F) is too cold to support rabies. This would explain why the very few opo's that have tested positive have all been in hot areas of the country.
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Last edited by stmelangell; 08-29-2008 at 02:46 AM.
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  #13  
Old 08-29-2008
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excellent info! thanks!
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  #14  
Old 08-29-2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stmelangell View Post
Opossums, IMHO, are one of the nicest little wild animals you'll ever handle. They only really have two forms of defence: (1) "open my mouth and look scary" and (2) "oh my god, that didn't work, play dead." The average opossum will bite only if ABSOLUTELY desperate. Myself, I have only been bitten once (in six years of handling them at least a couple times a week), tho that did puncture the skin. However, I really deserved it: I was holding a furry 40g baby under a faucet to wash several days of decayed chicken and feces from him (mom and babies got caught in a garbage can in 100-degree weather for four days; Mom and most of the babies died). I got distracted and he twisted around and nailed me. But wouldn't you have bitten me, too?

Here are my rambling thoughts on them:

(*) Opossums are easily the world's oldest living mammals: They were around at the time of the dinosaurs. They are also North America's only marsupial. Hence, they're quite interestingly different from the average mammal, both behaviourally and medically. For example, their "play dead" response is not controllable -- it's autonomic, like breathing or heartbeat.

(*) For preference, when handling, scruff them like a cat. Their neck is not very flexible and any grip on the neck/extreme upper back will make it impossible for them to bite you or wriggle away. My usual handling rhythm is (1) drop a towel over them, (2) scruff through the towel, (3) use the other hand to scoop towel under them and support their body, and then (4) off we go.

(*) Don't handle one by the tail unless you have no choice. It gives the little ones too much flexibility to rip themselves away from you or weasel around and start crawling up you. Adults do not support themselves by their tails alone (an artistic myth). Adult males or females with pouch young are heavy enough that you might dislocate the bones in their tail carrying them like that.

(*) Quick, what's the only dead animal that qualifies as an emergency call? A dead opossum, which may have live babies (called "joeys" like baby kangaroos) in the pouch or on the road. Check them ASAP. If you find only a few in the pouch, or none, look carefully around the scene for babies that may have wandered away and be hiding under bushes/in gutters/etc.

(*) Joeys that have nursed on a dead mom can get severe internal bacterial abcesses, even as long as a week or two later. They need antibiotics. If they're under 20g or not furry yet, they only have an 80% rehab mortality rate. Above 20g or with a little fur, the statistics flip and they have an 80% rehab SURVIVAL rate.

(*) Joeys have very complex nutritional and humidity requirements because of their enpouched status normally. Anything under 100g really, really needs to be raised by a rehabber to prevent bone disorders and permanent dry skin damage.

There are two national Opossum Societies: The Opossum Society of the U.S. (OSUS; www.opossumsociety.org) based in L.A. and the National Opossum Society (NOS; www.opossum.org) based back East. They both have very decided opinions about things and disagree with each other vehemently (which is why there are two of them), but both have their good points and most rehabbers are actually (quietly) members of both societies. From an ACO viewpoint, OSUS has a neato little flyer you can give children (http://www.opossumsocietyus.org/fun_for_the_joeys.htm), a very cute t-shirt design, and is based in God's Own Golden State. NOS, however, is very proactive about helping with care and will send you supplies like specialized orphan-feeding nipples for your syringes.

My last orphan chile project was this little guy:



Too cute, eh what?

P.S., the general thinking among rehabbers is that an opossum's normal body temperature (94 to 97 degrees F) is too cold to support rabies. This would explain why the very few opo's that have tested positive have all been in hot areas of the country.
Thanks for the tips and facts! I am going to write this stuff down in my note pad that I carry in the field so I can have it for easy reference. There are a lot of opossums around my patrol city so knowing as much about opossums is great.
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  #15  
Old 08-29-2008
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Originally Posted by Learning To Fly View Post
I have no info, just wanted to say that I LOOOOOVE 'possums!
GREAT! The next time we get a opossum call, I'll call you
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  #16  
Old 08-29-2008
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I can officially confirm that Opossums will bite. In fifteen years in the field, The only animal that has bitten me is the mighty marsupial. I must admit that it was kinda my fault. I was pulling it out of a trap by the tail with my gloved hand and the trap began to fall over. I grabbed the trap with my un-gloved hand and POW. Trip to hospital, antibiotics, painkillers and two days of missed work.
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  #17  
Old 08-29-2008
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and two days of missed work.
No no no no no. You earned a two day respite for injuries incurred while performing an inherently dangerous job that only few would accept.
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  #18  
Old 08-29-2008
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I usually handle them only with the catch pole, because they are usually filthy and it's easier to get them out the trap that way.

My favorite oppossum call was the one where the lady calls me saying her two dogs have killed the oppossum in the backyard. I get to the house, knock on the door and the lady tells me her friend came by and moved the oppossum out by the curb. I didn't see if because I wasn't looking for it to be there. I walk out and reach down to pick the dead oppossum up by the tail to put in the truck. I pick it up and feel it's tail curl around my finger. It wasn't dead at all, just playing oppossum. Put it on the truck and turned it loose. The dogs hadn't touched it, they just scared it to "death".

I just kept imagining what would have happened if the oppossum had "come alive" while the guy was carrying out to the curb. We probably would have needed an ambulance at that point.
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  #19  
Old 08-29-2008
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Please don't anyone be annoyed that I keep rattling on about this, but here I go again. This is one of those subjects that my little Mr. Monk brain absorbs like a sponge, and I could go on for hours and hours and hours and hours (just ask Kerri!). Trust me, I AM restraining myself.

Anyway, here's another couple of thoughts:

(*) Diagnosis: any opossum that is "filthy" -- covered in mud or dirt, poop, fleas, etc. -- is not healthy. Opossums by nature are as clean as (or cleaner than) cats. They HATE to be dirty. If they are dirty, it's because they don't have a choice, like you just pulled them out of a really disgusting trash can, or because they're injured or sick and haven't got the strength to clean themselves. If you think the opossum is okay, but it's that dirty, give it a quiet day (in a cool closet or bathroom, away from noises and other animals) in a crate with a towel, a dish of water, and some water-packed tuna or egg and fruit. It will be clean within 12 hours or so, next time you look at it, if it's healthy enough to release. Note: we had some here throw an opossum into a drum of used engine oil so they could bet on how long it would take to drown. God was kind enough to intervene, in the form of some very humane neighbors and the brothers in blue called to the scene, who were unusually fearless re: uniform dirt. Obviously, that kind of "filthy" needs special help ... they ended up sending him out to the oiled bird first-aid station on the coast, to treat him for diesel ingestion etc. (He made it, incidentally .)

(*) Opossums are tougher than rocks, which is why they survived and the dinosaurs didn't. They hide very serious injuries really well, however. So it behooves the ACO to think situations through when dealing with them. E.G., if an opossum was in a situation scary enough to do that autonomic play-dead thing, you probably want to take a really good look at it for punctures and fractures. Find a rehabber who can teach you how to examine one safely. (Offer me gas money and a place to stay, and I'll drive out and teach you. ) The same rehabber should also be willing to take an injured one from you to make it all better. Cat injuries usually require antibiotics; dog injuries are usually of the tearing, shaking kind, sometimes need surgery or stitching.

(*) Tell your front office people that when someone calls and says "my dogs killed an opossum last night," the next question after "rabies shots" should be "where is the body? we're coming to get it." Even if the animal really is dead, it may be a dead momma with live babies in the pouch. Chances are pretty good that it isn't dead at all anyway, and I shudder to think how many opossums get tossed in a garbage can, survive on refuse til trash day, and then get crushed to death in the garbage truck.

Please feel free to PM me (or call!) if you ever need advice about a case. And thanks for not throwing bananas (dancing or otherwise) at me.
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Old 08-29-2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by supersig View Post
I can officially confirm that Opossums will bite. In fifteen years in the field, The only animal that has bitten me is the mighty marsupial. I must admit that it was kinda my fault. I was pulling it out of a trap by the tail with my gloved hand and the trap began to fall over. I grabbed the trap with my un-gloved hand and POW. Trip to hospital, antibiotics, painkillers and two days of missed work.
Wow! Thank goodness you're okay! Inquiring minds want to know: did it just bite once, hard, or did it shake-shred like a deer would? The little rascal that got me (who was all of four inches long, snout to rump) bit once, hard.
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