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.
So how do you know if you have a opossum problem, and what do you do about it?
Table of Contents
- Identifying an Opossum Problem
- What do Opossums Look Like?
- Other Signs of Opossums
- Are Opossums Dangerous?
- Playing Possum
- Do Opossums Carry Rabies?
- Getting Rid of Opossums
- Trapping Opossums
- Opossum Prevention
- Opossum-Related Health Risks
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?
Opossums 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 food, especially cat food, 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.
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
Once you have confirmed an opossum infestation, 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.
Getting Rid of an Opossum in Your Attic
If 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.
Getting Rid of an Opossum In Your Yard or Under Structures
Traps are the easiest solution when facing an outdoor opossum problem. Use cat food or, if stray cats are common, marshmallows 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
Opossums are attracted to 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
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.
Opossums 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-Related Health Risks
Opossums 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.