Baby Opossums in Your House!

December 13, 2016

Baby opossum season is thankfully coming to a close, but only for a short while! We get quite a few calls here in the Live Animal Programs office when these bumbling troublemakers are out looking for a new place to call home.

Photo by Jill Franklin

A few years back, a young opossum made its home in the engine block of a Museum pool vehicle that hadn’t been used for a while. You can see with the leaves he dragged in, it was a perfectly cozy den. Luckily for him we didn’t start the engine and he was an easy eviction. More recently, a friend of an NHMLA Staffer wrote in a panic questioning how to get an opossum out of her house. It had pulled off a window screen and attempted to make itself at home.

Photo by Leslie Gordon

But we’re lucky. According to one rehabber I know, she gets calls several times a day early February/March and July/August. Of course, the young marsupials aren’t really looking for trouble, but they absolutely find it in our yards, homes, sheds, garages, engine blocks… you name it.

When they emerge from mom’s pouch and start riding on mom’s back, or tagging along behind her is the time when they start getting into trouble. If the mom did not become roadkill, and her scampering young were not grabbed up by a dog or cat, (the former scenarios comprise most of the rehabbers’ calls to rescue babies) they eventually start to look for a place to call their own. And they can call anything a home--under your garage, porch---almost anywhere.

We get our fair share of calls, but the reason it gets especially crazy for rehabbers is because opossums are virtual baby factories. Unlike many mammals, the baby season can happen multiple times a year, and at around 13 babies a litter, that’s a lot of babies! And they are in a hurry, too. They gestate for just 12 days, and when they are born (the size of honeybees), they have just a few minutes to race to one of 13 teats in mom’s pouch. They latch on and nurse for about 100 days, but toward the end of that period, they get large and start riding on mom’s back garbage-man-style. And at just about 3 to 4 months of age they are ready to go on their own! It is shocking to most people to see how small they are when they are technically ready to go. But remember--for an animal that lives maybe 3 years tops, every month is rather like 3 years of ours. And those first few months out of the pouch are clearly a real obstacle course for them.

So what to do if you run into one of these little kiddos when the next season comes around?

#1 Please don’t attract them by feeding. We strongly discourage feeding most any wild animals, especially nonnatives like opossums.

#2. If they are discovered in your trash cans, typically either gaping their giant mouths or playing dead, simply tip the can so they can get out, or put in a ”ladder” so they can escape. This can be a branch, an actual ladder, a crate, almost anything. Often they fall in and get stuck there. Remember, the playing dead routine is very effective. They go stiff, emit an odor and even allow flies to land on their open eyes! If you are unsure, walk away and ensure privacy/escape for at least 2 hours. If it is still there, you may have a dead opossum. If not, your ladder probably helped it get to freedom. 

#3. If they are in your home, you can typically treat them like an equivalent-sized cat. If simply shooing them out with a broom didn’t work and they are very small, throwing a towel over them usually works. Wear heavy gloves if you are worried. If they are larger, your presence is usually enough. But leave a clear, unobstructed exit back out of your home and you'll make outdoors seem more appealing. Just make sure a curious dog or neighbor isn’t blocking the path.

The best advice is to be patient. They’re slow, but they really don’t want to tangle with humans.

City of Los Angeles Animals Services – Wildlife 323-225-9453

Coast and Canyon Wildlife Rehabilitation 310-480-1760

County of Los Angeles Animal Control – Wildlife 562-728-4882

Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA – Wildlife 626-792-7151

(Posted by: Leslie Gordon)


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Twelve Days of Los Angeles Nature: 2013

December 23, 2013

Let's celebrate another year of L.A.'s AMAZING BIODIVERSITY. The benevolent blogger that I am, here are your gifts: Twelve Rattlers Rattling

Eleven Potter Wasps Piping

Ten Flies Decapitating (decapitating ants that is)

Nine Dragons Dancing (in the L.A. River)

Eight Mantids a Milking

Seven Planarians a Swimming

Six Lizards a Laying

Five Foxes Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding!

Four Glowing Worms (yes, they're glowworm beetles)

Three French Opossums

Two Turtle Newts

and P-22 in the Hollywood Hills

Here's to another year full of amazing Los Angeles nature discoveries! *P-22 image courtesy of the Griffith Park Connectivity Study  

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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Spring Babies in the Nature Lab

May 29, 2013

There are only 17 days left until our Nature Gardens and Nature Lab exhibits open! This makes me extremely excited and a little bit nauseous. To cope with the craziness, all I have to do is go and visit  our new Nature Lab babies. Just in case you're feeling stressed out too, here's some baby love for you: This is our new program opossum, Didelphis virginiana. She is a rescue animal that we were lucky enough to get from a local rehabber. She is blind in one eye (from a dog attack) which makes her unreleasable, and therefore our newest and cutest ambassador for L.A. wildlife.

  Look she smiles, even though she's blind in one eye!   We also have 14 baby Norway rats, Rattus norvigicus! They are currently in training to move into their new home which will be decked out with lots of toys including ladders, wheels, tubes, and a see-saw or two.  

Our baby rats snuggle up for a nap You've already met our harvester ants, Pogonomyrmex spp., but here is a much better close up of the babies, aka larvae. You'll be able to visit them in the Nature Lab and watch their older sisters caring for them.

  Antlings are cute too!   Recently one of our crayfish, Procambarus clarkii, had about 100 babies hatch. The fry (that's what you call a baby crayfish...not because they're good eating though) are about the size of a quarter and they zip around tank town like anything. This is mostly because they are looking for food, and trying to escape being eaten by the adults. What can I say, it's a hard life!    

Biggy-baby and not-so-biggy-baby hanging out together. Last but not least, here is one of our California Newts, Taricha torosa. Did you know that baby newts are called efts? If you are an avid L.A. Times crossworder, then you already know this, I swear eft is in the puzzle, like every other week!

  Who could say no to one of our baby newts?   Want to meet our new babies? Come by the Nature Lab after it opens on June 9!  

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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What Do Animals Think About Fireworks?

July 6, 2012

Last night many of us were enjoying the Fourth of July firework displays. Many of our pets were closed up indoors cowering under blankets, hiding under beds, or being generously shut up in bathrooms or garages. But what about the wild animals? Up to this point in my life, I had never paused to consider how wildlife might react to fireworks. Maybe this is just me, but until I got into work this morning and saw some footage and stills from our camera traps, I had never even stopped to think about it. Here are the images Sam Easterson sent me:  

Did the opossums feel like they were under attack?     Or were they going out to enjoy the show?   Sam said, "The Opossums got really agitated by the sound of the fireworks last night. There were a lot of trips in and out of the den around dusk. Then, a little later in the evening, one of the Opossums exited the den with what looks to be 4 or 5 babies on her/his back. They must have gone out to see the show. Or, they were trying to get away from it!" Did you witness any interesting wildlife behaviors last night, during our explosive celebrations? Drop me a line and let me know what you saw or heard!  

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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Hey People We've Got Baby Opossums

April 13, 2012

Remember back in December, when I said I'd let you all know if we had baby Virginia opossums, Didelphis virginiana? Well it's spring, and right on cue they're here! Sam Easterson's camera traps have caught the babies (we think there are three) on video over the last week, and although many people don't find opossum babies cute, there are a few of us here at the Museum that do. Check them out and make your own assessment.  

Out for ride on Mom's back!   Here are some interesting facts about opossum babies.

Check out this video Sam's camera trap caught. It puts me in mind of all those fight scenes I've seen where outlaws are fighting on top of moving train that is about to go into a tunnel. Admittedly the mother opossum moves quite a bit slower than a train and the baby is not as nimble as a knife-throwing outlaw, but hey, you get the picture!      

Carting all those babies around must be pretty tiring!          
(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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Opossums Love Tin Foil!

December 28, 2011

A few weeks ago, Sam Easterson followed a trail of tin foil and discovered the den of a Virginia opossum, Didelphis virginiana, underneath one of the Museum's storage sheds. Since then he set up camera traps around the den to see what was going on. This is what we found...A night of tin foil escapades. What on Earth are they doing with all the tin foil? Tin foil hats to ward off alien thought control maybe?

All kidding aside, it seems that this opossum has extracted a tasty morsel from inside the shiny package and is taking it down into the den.

Afternoon stroll?The next day, one of the opossums emerges for a late afternoon jaunt in the park, and takes a peek at the camera trap!Running away from Museum security!Can you see the flash light?Doing the Chores Finally, we caught lots of images of the opossums collecting leaves with their tails! Their prehensile tails are a great tool for grasping small objects and are sometimes used for hanging upside down in trees. Though the notion that they sleep hanging upside down is a myth, their tails are not strong enough to hold them upside down for an entire night.

Wait, there's more tin foil!What is in store for 2012? Sam's got a few tricks up his sleeve, which I'm not willing to reveal just yet. Suffice it to say that we're all hoping there will be babies in the spring! Happy 2012!

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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Beneath the Perch

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Scat: Owls and Opossums Oh My!

November 29, 2011

Mystery abounds in the North Campus, for who's been leaving scat under the footbridge? I discovered a vast array (about 10 pieces) of scat while I was searching for fungi a few weeks ago, and of course I snapped some pictures to try and identify our most recent visitor.  

Who does this scat belong to? My gut told me the scat belonged to either a Virginia Opossum,  Didelphis virginiana, or a Raccoon, Procyon lotor. To get a definitive answer I did two things. Firstly, I sent this picture to Jim Dines, the Museum's Mammology Collections Manager. Secondly, I put Sam Easterson on the project to set up a camera trap.    

    Almost caught in the act! The trap that Sam put up over the Thanksgiving Holiday recorded at least one, if not two Virginia Opossums under the bridge! Although, we didn't capture footage of an opossum in the act so to speak, I am pretty confident we've discovered our scat provider! In concurrence was Jim, "You're right that it's probably opossum. They can have such varied diet that their scat can be hard to identify." On the subject of scat, I have one last thing to show you! Unlike the Virginia Opossum, the Burrowing Owl, Athene cunicularia, we saw last week was caught in the act!         Aside from an in-depth view of owl bowel evacuation, this footage shows how Burrowing Owls are adept at standing on one leg. This isn't a circus trick, it actually allows the bird to keep the other leg warm in the feathers and only allow precious warmth to be lost from one leg at a time!      

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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Is This Your Dog?

July 20, 2011

Sam moved the camera trap last week. We wanted to see what else we might find in the North Campus. Here's what we found.

I guess the Opossum was like the rest of us totally unaffected by Carmageddon!

How did this dog get into the North Campus at 9:02 on a Sunday morning, when all the gates are locked until 9:30?

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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Camera Trapping

June 23, 2011

Last week Sam got an awesome package in the mail, our new camera trap! On Monday afternoon he set it up behind the Butterfly Pavilion to see if it worked. We were also curious to see if we'd capture any interesting images. Boy were we in for a surprise!Night 1: Monday pm-Tuesday am

Our first cat tail caught on camera! We've known for a long time about the feral cats, Felis catus, that live in Exposition Park, but we weren't expecting to capture one of them on camera so quickly.

Just over an hour later this Opossum, Didelphis virginiana, sidled into view. Again we knew they were around as we'd seen their tracks in the mud.Night 2: Wednesday pm-Thursday am

When Sam showed me this picture, I was blown away! I definitely wasn't expecting the trap to capture a juvenile Cooper's Hawk, Accipiter cooperii, in this space. I am very curious to know why it landed here, was it chasing a rat or a mouse, or did it just feel like posing?

I'm pretty sure this is the same cat as in the first image. If it is the same cat, it obviously goes on the prowl after dark. Maybe we'll have to move the camera trap to the bird feeders next time. 

Here's another view of an Opossum. We can't be sure if it is the same one, or if there's a family that lives in the park. There's a possibility that there's a den under the shed. I think we'll have to investigate.

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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