What Do Possums Eat?

Written by Patrick Sather
Updated: November 17, 2022
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Have you ever seen a creature lying still and seemingly dead by the side of the road, only to watch it stand up and walk away as if nothing happened? Chances are, the animal you saw was an opossum. Opossums belong to the order Didelphimorphia and live only in the Americas. Overall, there exist over 120 different species, most of which reside in South America. In fact, only one species lives in the United States and Canada. The Virginia opossum, or simply “possum,” is the only marsupial found north of Mexico. These predominantly solitary, nocturnal animals live in a wide variety of habitats, including close to human populations. When startled, they often play dead, which is where the phrase “playing possum” originates. While you may have encountered a possum before, you may still have a few questions. Like, what do possums eat?  What about babies, what does a baby possum eat? What do possums eat in captivity?

Today, we intend to answer this question for you in our guide to a typical possum’s diet. For the purpose of this article, we will use the term possum to refer specifically to the Virginia possum. The diet a possum eats is largely influenced by its habitat, so we will restrict our view to those possums living in the United States and Canada. We will cover what possums typically eat and how they hunt and forage for food. Additionally, we’ll discuss what they eat in captivity and what baby possums eat. With that said, let’s get ready to play possum and figure out what do possums eat.

What Do Possums Like to Eat?

What Do Possums Eat
Possums eat insects, dead animals, rodents, and fruits.

©A-Z-Animals.com

Possums are omnivorous and will eat pretty much anything that they can catch. They enjoy a wide variety of plants and animal-based foods and could hardly be called picky eaters. Typically speaking, the foods a possum will eat depends mostly on its environment. Possums will also adjust their diet according to the seasons, as they become less active in winter. That said, some foods make up the bulk of a possums diet, while they eat others only infrequently. In addition, possums enjoy some foods more than others and will choose to eat those foods when readily available. To narrow down this list, we’ve identified 10 foods that possums like to eat the most. These foods include:

  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Amphibians
  • Reptiles
  • Birds
  • Small mammals
  • Insects
  • Berries
  • Fruits
  • Garbage
  • Seeds
  • Dead animals

Unlike some animals, possums will eat carrion, and will not shy away from eating other animals, Furthermore, evidence suggests that captive possums may engage in cannibalism. However, little evidence points to cannibalism being a common practice in the wild. When in the presence of humans, possums will often raid compost piles, garbage cans, and trash heaps for scraps. They will also steal food from dog and pet bowls, bird feeders, and gardens. At their core, possums are opportunists, and will never pass up an easy meal when one presents itself. 

How Do Possums Hunt and Forage For Food? 

Animals That Play Dead opossum
Possums use their opposable thumbs and prehensile tail to help them climb trees.

A possum’s most valuable senses are its keen sense of touch and an exceptional sense of smell. Possums will use their opposable “thumbs” to help them climb trees and branches to pillage eggs from birds’ nests. They also use their strong front paws and long claws to dig in the dirt for insects and bugs. Meanwhile, their exceptional smelling abilities help them to locate food from far away. In fact, their noses have around 3 times as many genes devoted to detecting scents as humans. While their sense of hearing is okay, it is not well developed. Furthermore, their sense of taste is also quite lacking, which may explain why they will eat almost anything. Finally, their eyesight is rather poor. However, as nocturnal animals, they rely very little on eyesight, as they use their sharp noses to help them get around and find food. 

Possums move constantly during the night in search of food. They use their sharp claws to help them dig up insects, bugs, and invertebrates. Their opposable thumbs and prehensile trails aid them in climbing trees to attack birds and forage for eggs. A possum’s mouth contains around 50 teeth, which is more than any other mammal in North America. In addition, they possess 10 upper incisors, well above what any other mammal possesses. While their toothy smiles make it easy for them to chomp down on other animals, they also spend a good deal of time foraging for plants, especially fruits. Those possums that live close to humans frequently use their noses to track down garbage and other refuse. Trash is calorie-rich and makes for an easy meal for a possum. 

What Do Possums Eat in the Wild?

Craziest Animal Adaptations: Opossum
Possums eat mostly insects but will eat just about anything that they can find, including garbage.

©Lisa Hagan/Shutterstock.com

In the wild, insects make up the bulk of a possum’s diet. Common insects the possums eat include grasshoppers, beetles, crickets, and cockroaches. Additionally, possums represent one of the best natural tick repellents you can find. Possums love to eat ticks and can eat up to 5,000 ticks during a single season. This makes them very effective at reducing tick numbers and the spread of illnesses like Lyme disease. They also eat small animals such as rabbits, mice, rats, voles, frogs, snakes, birds, lizards, and fish. Possums have a natural resistance to certain snake venoms, which make them an ideal predator of snakes. Possums will often eat carrion, which is what often attracts them to roads or human areas. This can lead to collisions, which explains why people often associate possums with roadkill. 

During the spring and summer, possums tend to eat more animal matter as it is more abundant. However, in summer, fall, and winter, possums will begin to eat more plant matter. They particularly like berries and fruits such as apples and persimmons. Possums will also eat nuts and seeds, although with less frequency than other foods. When no other food is readily available, they will also eat grasses and other vegetation. Truly, the possum is willing to eat just about anything if it is hungry enough.  

What Do Captive Possums Eat?

Sleepiest Animals – North American Opossum
Opossums often sleep during the day in an abandoned burrow or hollow tree.

©Jay Ondreicka/Shutterstock.com

In captivity, possums usually live up to 4 years old. However, living this long requires that a possum eats a balanced diet full of nutritional foods. As omnivores, possums need to eat a wide variety of foods in order to stay healthy and get all the nutrients they need. Pellet insect foods are popular choices for feeding pet possums since insects make up a large part of their diet. Many people who keep captive possums also supplement plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits. Other foods include eggs and lean meats such as chicken or fish. You can also include dietary supplements that contain additional vitamins and minerals such as calcium. Given their love of food, possums will eat just about anything you put in front of them. However, this can lead to problems such as obesity, especially given their naturally slow metabolism.  

What Do Baby Possums Eat?

Happiest Animals: Opossum
Baby possums will remain with their mother until they’re around 4 or 5 months old.

©Evelyn D. Harrison/Shutterstock.com

At birth, baby possums measure only slightly more than half an inch long. Once born, baby possums will then climb into their mother’s pouch and begin sucking on her milk. They will remain in the pouch for around 2.5 months, during which time they eat only milk. Upon emerging from the pouch, the babies will climb onto their mother’s back. During the time that it spends on its mother’s back, a baby possum will eat the same foods as an adult. Most young possums will remain with their mother until around 4 or 5 months old. At that point, they are old enough to fend for themselves. Baby possums kept in captivity are fed a powdered milk formula, and eventually mashed fruits and veggies. If you encounter a baby possum in the wild, you should not attempt to take it in, as the mother may be nearby.

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