03.17.2007 - Ladies and gentlemen! In the blue corner, weighing in at 11 pounds, making his debut fight, please welcome our challenger, Pete "I Don't Play Dead" Possum! And in the gold corner, weighing in at 14 pounds, our current champion, give it up for Ricky "Rocky" Raccoon! Touch paws
gentlemen, I want a good, clean fight! There's the opening bell, I expect they'll just look at each other as always AND HOLY CRAP THEY'RE ABOUT TO TEAR EACH OTHERS THROAT OUT STOP THE FIGHT STOP THE FIGHT, in goes the metal divider, and it's all over.
Wow! I was not expecting that. Above is one of my very best photos that I've taken during my time as a wildlife control operator. I didn't mean for it to happen, and I'd never pit wild animals against each other for sport, particularly after growing up watching my sisters share a bedroom. Seriously. I'm kind to animals. But in the above case, I ran out of traps to use before I could travel to my wildlife relocation point. In such cases, I carefully transfer one animal to a cage with another. They always get along fine. I've never seen a fight. They usually just sit there. They are far more concerned for their own safety than to worry about another animal. I've put raccoons with raccoons, opossums with possums, squirrels with armadillos, alligators with mice (kidding), and I've never seen so much as a tooth bared, let alone a real scuffle, but these two were out for blood!
I think it was the possum's doing. They are usually very docile animals. I pick them up all the time (from the non-pointy end) and they are usually chill. If anything, when they feel threatened, they either gape their mouths all slack-jawed yokel like, or faint out of fear (play possum). But not old Pete here! He lunged for all he was worth! I have a camera with me at all times, and the instant I saw menace (immediately), I grabbed the camera and took the above photo. I'm glad I didn't get the photo of what happened .02 seconds after this flash, because it wasn't pretty.
Suffice to say, I immediately called the fight and threw a metal divider between the animals, and ushered the angry challenger back into his own cage, and left the job one free cage of what I wanted. Animal safety first - if I didn't want to protect them, I wouldn't bother to trap them in humane cage traps and relocate them to safe and suitable environments. I guess the fight ended a draw, or undecided, but I really was amazed to see an opossum not only hold his own like that, but go for it! In fact, if I had to pick a winner, I'd go with the possum. No no, I forgot what me mum told me, neither is the winner, everyone loses in a fight.
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At first glance, the raccoon and opossum seem like similar creatures: both are well-adapted to navigating urban and suburban environments, both tend to use human structures for shelter, and both are prone to sowing chaos around dumpsters. However, raccoons and opossums differ in four important ways: their looks, their behavior, their habitat, and their lifespan. Below, we will consider these four aspects in turn.
Some of the starkest differences between raccoons and opossums manifest in their appearance. Most raccoon species boast a thick, dark grey coat, with a ringed tail and a black mask-like pattern around their eyes. Meanwhile, opossums' coats appear light grey, with their faces sporting purely white fur, and their tails carrying no hair whatsoever. Another important difference to note in the looks department is size: raccoons tend to be bulkier, growing to be up to 70 cm (27.5 in) long and weighing up to 9 kg (20 lbs.), while opossums, although longer—growing to be up to 90 cm (35.4 in) long—weigh only around 6.4 kg (14 lbs.) on average.
Perhaps the most crucial difference between the two animals is how they respond to aggression from humans. Opossums have a very passive way to deal with danger, hissing at a threat when they feel endangered, and playing dead if the threat comes too close. When an opossum plays dead, its muscles lock-up, its breathing slows to a third of its usual rate, its heart rate halves, and it secretes a substance that mimics the smell of a rotting corpse. While this seems like a deliberate move from an outsider's perspective, it is completely involuntary, comparable to fainting in humans. Nevertheless, unlike fainting, playing dead does not render the opossum unconscious, meaning that it should be handled as if it can feel pain.
Raccoons, on the other hand, deploy an active approach to self-defense: they will prefer to escape threats, using vertical surfaces like trees to their advantage, but should they be cornered, raccoons will not hesitate to claw and bite at the threat at hand. For this reason, confronting raccoons directly should be avoided at all costs: a raccoon bite is not only unpleasant but may also transmit potentially deadly diseases like distemper and rabies to you and your pets.
Both opossums and raccoons prefer wooded areas, using trees as litter dens and rest areas. However, while raccoons usually have several favorite sleeping areas that they visit, opossums have a more itinerant lifestyle: they will only stay in a spot for as long as it has food, and move on once it becomes unfeasible to stay. Like raccoons, opossums prefer dark, quiet places, and often nest in attics; however, unlike raccoons, opossums often make their homes under, rather than above, a house.
Compared to opossums, raccoons are far more durable creatures. In the wild, raccoons tend to live for four years, while opossums only live around two. In captivity, however, raccoons can live for up to 20 years, while opossums only last about four years in the best cases. Since opossums are poor at self-defense and are quickly snapped up by predators and diseases, they never had a chance to evolve a slow aging process, leading to their uniquely short lifespan.