What Do Possums Eat?

Opossums Play Dead

Written by Patrick Sather

Updated: September 18, 2023

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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. When startled, they often play dead, which is where the phrase “playing possum” originates. While you may have encountered an opossum before, you may still have a few questions. Like, what do opossums 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 an opossum eats is largely influenced by its habitat, so we will restrict our view to those opossums living in the United States and Canada. We will cover what opossums typically eat and how they hunt and forage for food. Additionally, we’ll discuss what they eat in captivity and what baby possums eat.

Where Do Possums Live?

Opossums belong to the order Didelphimorphia and live only in the Americas. Overall, there exist more than 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.

How Long Do Possums Live?

The lifespan of a possum is comparatively short for a mammal of its size. On average, a possum can live 1-2 years in the wild. In captivity, they can live as long as 4 years in captivity.

The factors contributing to this shorter lifespan start from birth. A litter of possums consists of up to 20 possums, however fewer than half survive. Female possums have 13 teats in their pouch and if a possum is not able to secure a teat for milk it will die due to lack of food.

Threats to possums include humans, dogs and cats. However, possums reproduce rapidly so their populations remain stable and they are not classified as being endangered.

What Do Possums Like to Eat?

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

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.

In the wild, insects make up the bulk of a possum’s diet. Common insects the possums eat include grasshoppers, beetles, crickets, and cockroaches. 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

Possums kept as pets often eat pellet insect foods to get all the nutrients they need.

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

After they have emerged from their mother’s pouch, baby possums will eat the same foods as her.

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.

What Animals Kill Possums?

Adult Coyote playing with pup

Opossums have many predators in the wild including coyotes.

While we’ve seen that there are a variety of small animals that possums enjoy feeding on, there are larger predators in the wild that view the possum as a tasty meal. These animals include:

  • Foxes
  • Coyotes
  • Dogs
  • Raccoons
  • Bobcats
  • Raptors (Owls, Eagles, & Hawks)

In the wild, opossums don’t live very long lives, being prey for the above-mentioned animals. They are in danger at any age, but younger ones are the most at-risk. Opossums usually do not live beyond two years of age.

Besides being dinner for larger wild animals, opossums often become roadkill on the highways and byways across the United States, especially in the fall and winter.

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