Opossums and Their Sense Of Smell (Questions and Answers)

When you look at opossums, one thing that will probably strike you is their pink snout. You might even be tempted to boop it with your fingers. Of course, as tempting as it may be, you should avoid getting too close to them as they might get provoked. Remember, opossums are solitary creatures, and they like to be left alone. (And they have sharp teeth!)

More than just making them look adorable, their nose serves a purpose vital to the opossums’ survival. To know more about this, stick with us in this Floofmania article as we try to sniff out essential information about the opossum’s sense of smell.

Opossum sniffing the ground next to a metal fence.

Do Opossums Have A Good Sense Of Smell?

Yes, opossums have an excellent sense of smell. 

Their superb sense of smell can be attributed to the structure of their olfactory system, the part of the nose and brain that detects odors. And you know what? Opossums have around 1500 olfactory receptors. This is over three times as many more than the number of olfactory receptors humans have, which is only around 400.

You’re reading it right! Opossums can smell better than us. And yes, you can say that the opossum’s strong sense of smell compensates for its relatively weak eyesight and hearing. 

The keenness of their smell is already present among newborn opossums. When opossums are born, they are faced with the challenge of locating their mother’s pouch unassisted. They need to immediately crawl into the pouch some distance away because this is where they can continue to develop. With their eyes and ears still underdeveloped, newborn opossums likely use their sense of smell to find their mother’s pouch. 

Can Opossums Smell Food or Other Opossums From Far Away?

At present, no data indicate the exact distance that an opossum’s sense of smell can cover. However, because of their well-developed olfactory receptors, there’s no doubt that opossums can easily detect the presence of food and other opossums within their area

It also depends on what you identify as food. Opossums are opportunistic animals, so basically anything could be food for them, including garbage and dead animals. Both pleasant and foul-smelling foods are easily detectable for opossums, but especially the strong-smelling ones.

Opossums can also smell other opossums that are a little farther away from them. This is possible because opossums usually announce their presence in an area using their urine, droppings, and saliva. Once an opossum identifies the scent of these markings, they are made aware that a fellow opossum is present within its area. 

Fact: Did you know that opossums are resistant to snake bites? In a series of field experiments where snakes were manually managed to inflict bites on captured opossums, the opossums displayed remarkable physiological tolerance to snake bites. Experiments also revealed that opossums are resistant to the bites of snakes that share the same range and habitat as them. 

How Do Opossums Use Their Sense Of Smell?

In particular, opossums use their sense of smell for the following purposes: 

  • Finding food. Because of their weak vision, opossums primarily use their sense of smell to search for food. The keenness of their sense of smell allows them to detect all sorts of foods they like to eat, from sweet-smelling plants and fruits to stinky leftovers and carrion (dead animals). 
  • Identifying other opossums. Just like what we previously mentioned in this article, opossums use their sense of smell to detect any urine, droppings, saliva, and secretion left as a scent marker by other opossums. 

Do Opossums Use Smells For Communicating?

Not only do opossums smartly use their sense of smell to find food and other opossums, but they also utilize smells to communicate with other opossums. 

Opossums announce their presence in a territory by releasing droppings, saliva, urine, and secretions from glands located in different regions of their skin. Among male opossums, licking and rubbing the neck and head against various structures (such as trees, rocks, or even buildings) of their territory is very common. 

They also emit a musky odor and can be observed to have yellow stains in the fur of their chest, caused by their suprasternal gland. This secretion is very common before the onset of the breeding season, and it is believed that these musky markings help male opossums in attracting possible mates. 

Among female opossums, the same rubbing of the neck and head against rocks, tree trunks, and other structures can be observed. However, it is unclear what effect this action can have on male opossums’ behavior. 

Fact: Did you know that one of the opossum’s defense mechanisms is drooling? When faced with threats, the opossum will try to drool excessively until bubbles from the drool are blowing out of its nose. Gross, right? That’s exactly the goal: to make them appear gross, sick, and unappealing to predators.

What Smells Are Opossums Attracted By? 

Opossums can find both foul and pleasing odors attractive. Here are some of the smells opossums find to be very inviting

  • Sweet-smelling and rotten fruits. If you have gardens with fruit-bearing plants on trees, you can expect frequent opossum visits. Opossums can easily pick up the scent of these fruits and they will come scavenging. 
  • Smells of pet food, bird feeders, and chicken coops. The nice smell of pet food can easily entice opossums, especially if the food is left outside at night. So if you’re the type who doesn’t clean up leftover pet foods, expect them to be gone by the morning. 
  • Odorous trashcans and composed heaps. The stinky smell of food leftovers stuffed in your trashcans commonly invites opossums to visit. 

Are There Smells That Opossums Don’t Like? 

Although opossums get easily attracted to any type of smell, there are also scents that they dislike, particularly those that are too strong. Opossums dislike the smell of the following: 

  • Ammonia
  • Mothballs
  • Vinegar
  • Strong spices such as hot sauce, tabasco, and garlic

More than these smells, opossums abhor the smell of their predators’ urine like that of foxes, coyotes, and bobcats because these smells signal that these predators are also occupying the area where the opossum is currently in. 

What Does The Opossum’s Nose Look Like?

An opossum’s nose is pink, cone-shaped, hairless, and medium-sized. It looks soft, which makes it tempting to bop them. 

A closeup of the face of an opossum with its nose, whiskers, eyes and ears in focus.

Author: Clarisse Jane Javier

Hello, there! I’m CJ, and I’ve been writing since primary school. I love to write about a variety of topics, from pets to the arts. I have had an endless fascination for animals since I was a kid. Until today, I always looked forward to learning more about the diverse species we have on Earth.

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