An old joke poses the question, "Why did the chicken cross the road?" One of many possible answers to this question is, "To show the opossum that it could be done." Unfortunately, opossums find themselves the butt of this joke because they really are prone to getting hit by cars. This susceptibility to being run over is a direct result of the opossum's primary defense. Freezing, baring your teeth, or rolling over and playing dead might work if you are under attack from a predator, but it is less than effective against an oncoming automobile.
At this time of year, the opossum you see laying in the road may not be the only victim. Virginia Opossum breeding season is in full swing, so many females are currently transporting up to 13 babies in their pouch. The opossum's pouch is located on her abomen. At birth, the opossum's bean-sized babies climb inside the pouch and attach themselves to a nipple. They spend about 60 days nursing and growing in the pouch before emerging to cling to their mother's back for an additional 30-40 days. In the photo below, you can see a number of babies partially enclosed by their mothers pouch as she nurses them.
So if you see an opossum that has been hit by a car, and if it is safe to do so, consider stopping to check for babies. Young in the pouch frequently survive, even when their mother is fatally injured, and they may hold on for a day or more.
Whether babies are present or not, move the opossums body off the road so that it does not attract and endanger other animals. If older, furred babies are present, they can be gently removed from the pouch and placed in a warm, dry container lined with a towel. For tiny, unfurred babies, it may be best to leave them in the pouch and place the mother's body in a box for transport.
Bring the babies to PAWS or another licensed wildlife rehabilitation organization. Very tiny babies may be too small to save, but you will be doing them a great service by ensuring that they are not left to suffer on the road.
As always, if you have any questions you can give us a call at 425.412.4040. Thank you!
Learn more tips for dealing with wildlife at PAWS.org