Karla News

Opossums and Rabies: My Experience

Animal Control, Opossum, Rabies

Several months ago, I was chatting on my cell phone in the late evening, my toddler on my hip. My friend was relating a funny anecdote to me when I suddenly shrieked.

“What? What is it? Are you okay?” my friend asked, flustered. By the time she finished asking me what was wrong, I was already back inside, holding my toddler tightly against my chest and trying to control my hyperventiliation.

While I had been talking to my friend, an opossum had scurried out of the bushes behind my house. It charged in front of me, its wide mouth gaping and full of sharp teeth. It poised itself aggressively and roared out a blood-curdling hiss. The behavior of the animal– combined with the fact that I had in no way expected to see it– absolutely terrified me.

I was convinced that the opossum had rabies. After all, I had never in my life seen an opossum behaving aggressively. Every time I had encountered an opossumin the past, it had been dead on the side of the road, feigning death because of fear, or running away in terror. I had no idea that they could become aggressive toward people. There was no doubt in my mind– this monster-marsupial had rabies, and I had just narrowly escaped death.

A call to Animal Control the next day allayed my fears. When I told the Animal Control officer that I had seen an opossum who appeared to have rabies, the officer patiently explained that opossums don’t get rabies– or, at least, that they have never been known to have it. Although the behavior I described wasn’t inconsistent with rabid animal behavior, it was also quite typical for any animal who was startled.

See also  Best Day Hikes in the Tampa Bay Area

I felt sheepish but relieved as the officer explained a bit about opossum biology. As he explained it, rabies thrives in animals with a high body temperature. This is why bats and dogs are ideal prey for the virus. Opossums ave body temperatures several degrees below dogs and a few degrees below a human, and the rabies virus can not survive for long within their bodies. This has safeguarded the opossum and its hundreds of distant relatives from the threat of rabies.

The Animal Control officer hypothesized that the opossum’s apparently rabid behavior was probably the result of mutual shock. I didn’t expect for an opossum to charge at me while I was n the phone, and the opossum didn’t expect a human to walk onto her turf while she was in the middle of her evening meal. The old adage– “it’s more afraid of you than you are of it,” holds true for opossums.

I never saw my apparently rabid opossum again, but I was glad to have had the odd– but rather amusing– experience. Next time I see an opossum acting crazy, I’m a bit less likely to run screaming into the house.