Made famous for their unique ability to play dead, opossums are a mostly peaceful animal that is nevertheless a nuisance to homeowners. Opossums will raid gardens and trash, steal your pet’s food, and take up residence in your attic, garage, or under your deck. They will also enlarge holes in your woodwork, tear up your insulation, and even chew through wires.
A common misconception is that opossum and possum are the same animal, but they’re actually two different species. The opossums we’ll be talking about here live in the North of America while a Possum can only be found Down Under with Australian marsupials more closely related to Kangaroos.
M-W Dictionary also recognizes this habit of ours where people often treat ‘O’ as if it were silent (like how H sounds when pronounced aloud).
All About Opossums
The Virginia Opossum is North America’s only marsupial. When baby opossums are born, they’re about the size of a jelly bean and each litter contains between 6-9 babies. Immediately after birth their mother pouch where she places them for 8 more weeks while predators kill off those that don’t survive quickly enough or get too big. This is so as not to stress mom out later on down the line when food runs low. Production usually ranges anywhere from 2-3 litters per year which means all these little critters could potentially add up fast if you have any kind lives close by because it looks like this animal would make an excellent backyard pest control officer!
The Virginia Opossum size ranges from 21″ – 36″, and its appearance does not help their image either because of the rat-like tail it has but this creature uses those animals in fascinating ways! For one thing, when climbing up tree trunks opossums use their tails as 5th appendages helping them balance themselves out while gripping onto branches.
Opossums are also one of the few animals that boasts opposable thumbs, albeit they’re on their hind feet. Opuses have shown themselves to be highly intelligent creatures, especially when tested for ability remember where food is! Once you’ve identified your trash can as a source they will come back time after time because it was easily accessible with only two paws needed thanks to its contents being memorized by the opossums last visit.
So how do you know if you have a opossum problem, and what do you do about it?
Identifying an Opossum Problem
There are many pests which might dig through your trash, leave feces around your yard, or cause other damages. However, there are ways to identify the invasive species even if you haven’t seen them.
What do Opossums Look Like?
These marsupials carry their young in pouches, making them the only marsupial native to North America. They tend to be between two and four feet in length, with weight ranging from one to fifteen pounds. An opossum has silver and black fur, with a prehensile, hairless tail which they can use for grasping objects and even hanging from trees. The rear feet of opossums have opposable thumbs which aid in climbing through trees.
Other Signs of Opossums
Due to their varied diet, opossum feces can be difficult to identify. The droppings tend to be between one and three inches long, making them resemble that of a cat or small dog. You will find these droppings near where the opossum feeds.
As opossums have a varied diet, the feces will hold a similar shape, but the color may range from a dark brown to red. One way to ensure that the droppings are from a opossum is to examine them while fresh. Opossum dung has a filmy, slightly shiny appearance, which is uncommon in other pests.
Are Opossums Dangerous?
While not as dangerous as many other species, opossums will defend themselves. They will get into fights with your pets over pet food, especially food for a cat, which they particularly enjoy. They also pose a sanitary risk and can transmit disease. However, if frightened, they will involuntarily fall over in the feigned death they are famous for. In this state, which can last for up to four hours, the opossum will remain comatose. A foul smell will emit from glands near the anus and their mouth will remain agape to further give the illusion of death.
“Playing possum” is a vernacular phrase which is also known as “pretending to be dead”. This term is derived from an attribute of the Virginia opossum, which is prominent for pretending to be dead when it is threatened in any way.
Do Opossums Carry Rabies?
Unlike many pests, opossums are highly resistant to rabies. They have a lower body temperature which makes them inhospitable hosts for the disease. They are also resistant to many other common wildlife diseases, although they may have external parasites which are carriers of disease.
Getting Rid of Opossums
People living in possum-heavy areas often have to deal with the pesky animals. They can be a nuisance, especially when they’re eating up all your food and leaving behind their own droppings that promote rats or mice infestations as well!
There are a few steps you will need to take once you realize that opossums might be your issue!
Step 1: Remove any food sources that would be attracting opossums.
Step 2: Apply some sort of opossum repellent in your garden.
Step 3: Use electronic or solar repellents to scare the opossums away.
Step 4: Be to walk the exterior of your home. Seal any point of entry that you may see. Ensure that your chimney as well as any holes or gap accesses are blocked.
Step 5: Secure all garbage cans with lock or bungee cord lock system.
Once you have completed the steps above you then begin to confirm if you have an opossum infestation. If yes, it is important to remove them. Opossum feces and urine can damage your home, and they are known to become aggressive when threatened. While they can be handled by their tail, it is best to leave this up to a professional, as the opossum will attempt to defend itself.
Disposing of an Opossum in Your Attic
When you have an opossum in your attic, you have the option to set traps or exclude. If you choose to set a trap, it is important to seal off any potential entry points to prevent future invasions. Be sure to release any babies with their parents at least ten miles from your home.
Exclusion is a method which works for most invasive animals. Begin by locating all possible entry points. Seal all but one of these points, and add a one-way exclusion door to the final point. These doors will allow the opossum to exit, but not re-enter. Make sure that no young are left behind, and once the opossums are gone, seal the final entry point. You will need to clean any feces or nests afterwards.
Doing Away of an Opossum In Your Yard or Under Structures
Traps are the easiest solution when facing an outdoor opossum problem. Use pet food particularly food for a cat. If stray cats are common, use marshmallows instead for bait. Once captured, take the opossum at least ten miles away for releasing. If the opossum has been hiding under your deck or shed, then you will need to install an exclusion barrier to prevent future problems. Finally, clear your property of any potential attractants to discourage visits from opossums or other pests.
The simplest way to catch a opossum is to use a large-sized live trap. This trap should be placed near an entry point or flush to the ground. Be sure that the cage is clean and odor-free. Camouflage is also helpful when placing a trap in your yard. As opossums are nocturnal, it is a good idea to close the cages during daylight hours so as not to accidentally trap squirrels or other diurnal species. Once the opossum has been captured, you should take it at least ten miles from your home to release it. Finally, make sure that any babies are released with their parents.
Types of Bait
Bait to attract opossum are in a large range of foods, making it easy to attract them, but also easy to trap them. They are partial to snails, so make sure there are none in the vicinity of your traps. The ideal trap bait is marshmallows or cat food. Be careful when placing the latter if there are strays in your area. Other foods may also be used to bait a live trap. These include tomatoes, grapes, bananas, apple slices, and melon.
Why You Shouldn’t Kill or Poison an Opossum
Scientists have found that opossums are misunderstood by many people. They’re often perceived as rat-like vermin, but the possum provides humans many unique benefits! For example: one study showed how this marsupial kills 5,000 ticks per year and removes them from its body in order to prevent Lyme disease (which can be transmitted through tick bites).
While it may seem more convenient to simply kill an opossum, this is not a good solution. Dead animals can attract more pests, and kill traps are not guaranteed to kill a trapped animal. A wounded opossum may become aggressive and attack you when you attempt to remove it from the trap.
Poisoning is even less reliable. Not only do you risk other animals getting poisoned, but it is very slow acting. A poisoned opossum may take up to one month to die, and the process is very painful. Finally, the opossum may crawl into a tight space to die, leaving a decaying corpse in a possibly inaccessible location.
Whether you have a current opossum problem or think you are at risk of one, prevention is an important measure. Sealing up potential entry points around your home or yard will help prevent many pests from invading. Other methods may help reduce the risk of infestation by not only opossums, but also skunks, raccoons, and many other pests.
While there are many different repellents available, the most effective is predator urine. This is available at most outdoor sporting goods shops in various forms. Simply follow the instructions and be aware that you may need to reapply if it rains. Ammonia is sometimes effective as well, possibly due to it being a major component in urine. Please note that no repellent is foolproof and other methods of discouragement may prove more cost-effective.
These creatures are scavengers, and will eat everything from flowers to compost. By removing attractive food sources such as pet food, fallen fruit, and garbage; opossums and other animals are less likely to enter your yard. If you have a garden, be sure to fence it in, and remove any water sources. Look for any holes or places where an opossum might hide, including wood piles and under structures. Where possible, remove debris and seal possible entry points under your deck or shed. Opossums seek shelter, so by denying them places to hide, they will find your yard far less attractive.
Opossum also kill and eat cockroaches, rats, and mice. Although, they will take some fruit for their efforts, opossum eat snails and slugs from a backyard garden.
Opossums are not only immune to the venom of snakes, but they also use it for their own purposes. Opossum fight off bacteria and fungi that carry diseases in a way other animals cannot. Opossum’s cells have such low levels Of calcium phosphate compared with human beings or most land mammals. Therefore this allows them to deal effectively against many types toxins including those found within cobra hoods! They have no fear whatsoever to consumer dangerous vermin like rattlesnakes.
Opossum-Related Health Risks
They are resistant to many common animal diseases, including rabies. However, they do still pose a health risk to humans. They may carry external parasites such as lice, fleas, ticks, and mites which pose their own diseases such as Lyme disease. The following are some of the diseases which may be contracted from contact with opossums or their feces:
- Leptospiriosis – Caused by the bacterium Leptospira interrogans, this dangerous disease causes muscle pain, chills, vomiting, nausea, and neck stiffness in the first stage. The second stage, if untreated, can result in aseptic meningitis, resulting in blurred vision and yellowed eyes.
- Chagas disease – This parasitic disease is also known as American tryposomiasis, It is both inflammatory and infectious, and most often affects children. If untreated, it can lead to serious heart and digestive issues.
- Tuberculosis – Spread via airborne bacteria, tuberculosis is a potentially dangerous disease which affects mainly your lungs. However, it is also known to affect the kidneys, brain, and spine. Many strains are resistant to antibiotics. Symptoms may include coughing up blood, chest pain, fatigue, fever, a cough lasting for more than three weeks, loss of appetite, chills, and night sweats.
- Toxoplasmosis – Caused by the common Toxoplasma gondii parasite, this disease may create flu-like symptoms. While not inherently dangerous, it can lead to serious complications in newborns with infected mothers and people with lowered immune systems. Some complications may include seizures, eye infections or blurred vision, and an enlarged liver or spleen.