News Animals Are Opossums Actually Cute and Cuddly? Wildlife rehabber dispels myths that opossums are aggressive, dirty, diseased. By Mary Jo DiLonardo Mary Jo DiLonardo LinkedIn Twitter Senior Writer University of Cincinnati Mary Jo DiLonardo has worked in print, online, and broadcast journalism for 25 years and covers nature, health, science, and animals. Learn about our editorial process Published May 12, 2022 11:25AM EDT Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a freelance writer, fact-checker, and small organic farmer in the Columbia River Gorge. She enjoys gardening, reporting on environmental topics, and spending her time outside snowboarding or foraging. Topics of expertise and interest include agriculture, conservation, ecology, and climate science. Learn about our fact checking process Ally Burguieres Share Twitter Pinterest Email News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive When artist, writer, and wildlife rehabber Ally Burguieres first met an orphaned possum named Sesame, she was immediately smitten with the tiny, “super cute” critter. Sesame eventually developed quite a following, which helped Burguieres dispel so many misconceptions that possums are dirty, diseased, or aggressive. Her popular @itsmesesame Instagram account works to correct those myths, as does her new book “Possums Are Not Cute! And Other Myths About Nature’s Most Misunderstood Critter” (Quirk Books). Possum or Opossum? Possum is a colloquial term often used for the Virginia opossum that is native to North America. Burguieres talked to Treehugger about her passion for possums, how people react when they meet the animals, and why it's interesting to watch one eat a cupcake. Treehugger: What was your first up-close encounter with a possum like (through a sliding door)? Ally Burguieres: The first possum I met was a wild possum on the back porch of my family home in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. I’m not sure anyone would call him “cute,” but there was something endearing about him—he was old, scraggly, and just looking for a snack. Years later, when I was active in animal rescue and a friend contacted me about a baby possum in need, I said “yes” not really knowing what to expect! Ally Burguieres What was the experience with Sesame like and how did his personality surprise you? Sesame was SUPER cute. I was surprised by how small baby possums are—at about 3 months, they’re the size of a large mouse—and how soft, too. I’ve since learned that many baby possums are skittish (with good reason), but Sesame was never afraid of anything. He was surprisingly adventurous and brave, and he loved people. Why were you unable to rehab him and release him back into the wild? How did he become a possum ambassador instead? Sesame’s addiction to humans was one of the biggest reasons he was deemed nonreleasable. Most possums are independent and wary of humans. As cute as they are, the babies are typically hard-wired to be jumpy—many open their mouths and freeze at the first sign of a threat. This wariness is good and means they’ll be cautious around potential predators in the wild. Sesame was missing that innate fear, and by the time he reached me, he was so dependent on humans that releasing him would have been wrong. How did people react when they met Sesame, either in person or through his popular social media presence? People have cried when meeting Sesame! I completely understand, as I’m often overcome with emotion when it comes to Sesame as well. There’s something special about getting to meet and befriend such a unique, peculiar animal. With his social media, people all over the world befriended Sesame and his proteges. With nonreleasables like Emma and Freya (both nonreleasable due to blindness) now in the Sesame the Opossum family, the love, connection, and special experiences with possums continue. Ally Burguieres Which possum ideas do you believe are the biggest misconceptions? Some people mistakenly assume possums are dirty, diseased, and aggressive. In reality, possums prefer to keep clean (they wash themselves frequently, like cats) and their body temperature is too low to effectively carry viruses like rabies, parvo, and distemper. And while they may appear mean, their snarling and teeth baring is simply a desperate attempt to appear frightening in hopes they’ll be left alone. Possums are the ultimate introverts! What advice do you have for people who run across possums or want to help with their rehab? If you run across a possum who appears healthy and alert, the best thing you can do is to keep your distance and allow them to continue with whatever they’re doing. Possums eat tons of insects and rotting plant matter, so having them in your yard is a good thing! If you encounter a possum who needs help, the best (and really only) way to help them is to contact a rehabber near you. On our website, we have a page dedicated to information and resources on finding your local rehabbers, including a link to www.ahnow.org, a searchable database of registered wildlife rehabbers. For those who want to get really involved, I recommend befriending your local rehabber or wildlife rescue center. Ask how you can get involved and possibly become a rehabber yourself! Ally Burguieres. Ally Burguieres What do you hope people will take away from your book? I hope "Possums Are Not Cute!" will bring joy and happiness and ignite readers’ compassion for possums. I think it’s always fun to discover bliss in unexpected places, and what could be more unexpectedly delightful than super cute possums? How long did Sesame live and what were some of the highlights of your time with him? Sesame lived for about 2 1/2 years—way too short, but about average for a nonreleasable possum! One of my favorite memories was taking Sesame to our local “dog” bakery. I picked out several cookies and a cupcake and put them on the counter to pay. By this time, Sesame was a large, 20-pound possum, and he was watching from a purse at my hip. As soon as I handed the shopkeeper cash for the treats, Sesame grabbed the cupcake off the counter and shoved it into his mouth with both hands. The shopkeeper and I were laughing while Sesame tried to figure out why his cupcake had a paper lining (he quickly figured out he only wanted the cupcake and discarded the paper). And do you mind sharing a little background about you—what you do when you’re not talking possums? I’ve always been an animal lover, and when I’m not rehabbing, photographing, or talking about possums, I’m usually drawing or reading about other animals. I work as an artist and have a single-artist gallery in the New Orleans French Quarter called Gallery Burguieres. I also have a shop called Cocoally that features my designs on a variety of products including pajamas, sweaters, ceramics, and more. Being an artist and product designer is a big part of my possum advocacy—I get to dream up possum-themed designs and creations and bring them to life! The shops are all family businesses, so I have the pleasure of working and playing with my mom and sisters every day. My mom is incredibly talented at ethical business development, and my sisters are active in animal rescue: my sister Evie is on the board of the Humane Society of Louisiana and my sister Juliette is a devoted dog rescuer. We’re all vegan and passionate about having a positive impact on animals and the planet.