A possum is a nocturnal marsupial. This mammal is not a rodent despite the rat-like appearance of its face and tail. Like other marsupials, the possum is born undeveloped. For this reason, its early life is spent inside its mother's pouch.
An adult possum becomes 24 to 40 inches long and sports a tail that is 10 to 12 inches long. The tail is prehensile; the possum wraps its tail around branches to stabilize itself during climbing. It can weigh anywhere from 4 to 12 pounds and has a thick coat of gray fur.
There are pros and cons to having possums on your property, but many people focus on the latter and choose to get rid of possums. On the plus side, possums eat a number of animals that most people find objectionable, including snakes (even poisonous snakes). The benefits of this service are overridden, for some people, by the dangers or nuisances that possums bring to a property. There is also the fright factor to consider. Encountering a hissing possum baring its menacing teeth as you stroll absent-mindedly to your compost bin at night can give you a scare.
4 Ways to Get Rid of Possums
Repelling a possum with a motion-activated sprinkler falls under the category of a visual repellent, sometimes referred to as a "sight aversion." Essentially, the appearance of a sudden burst of water frightens the animal away.
Here the principle is to repel possums with ultrasonic waves. Like motion-activated sprinklers, these products are safe (for humans and pets, as well as pests) and mess-free. There are ultrasonic pest devices that also involve flashing LED strobes, which further annoys possums. It is solar-powered, to boot. Considering all factors, electronic repellents are your single best bet for driving away possums.
Chemical repellents are the least effective measure against possums, partly because you have to reapply them when they lose their "sting" or after a rain. Use chemical repellents in conjunction with the other steps presented here to increase your chance of success.
Chemical repellents attack the possum's sense of smell. These products often come in granule form and may be made with a scent like natural fox urine (an extract), so it is safe to use around kids and pets.
If you would like to have a look "up close and personal" at a possum before getting rid of it, you can attempt to trap it in a live trap and move it to an appropriate location. However, relocating pests is restricted or prohibited in many states, so check with local authorities before selecting this option.
For best results, use a live trap designed for medium-sized pests that has two openings. Place the trap on a level surface. The best location is near the possum's den; failing that, put the trap wherever you have noticed the most activity.
For bait, use apples, canned pet food, or fish. Check the trap often, and relocate any trapped possums to an approved location at least 5 miles from your home. Live traps are safe to use around kids and pets as long as you make it a point to check them regularly (so that a pet doesn't get trapped inside for an extended period).
Signs of a Possum
Since possums are secretive animals, the first indication you may have that one is on your property is the presence of its scat. This excrement is 1 to 2 inches long and smooth. It is brown, but it sometimes becomes covered in a mold that is white or yellow. Besides that, your only indications that a possum was (or is) present may be disappearing food (either from your garbage or your pet's food bowl), or hissing and shrieking sounds.
What Causes a Possum Infestation?
The short answer is the presence of food, but, since possums are omnivores, this covers a wide area. Examples of foods that'll attract possums include:
- Fruits and berries that have fallen from plants you're growing
- Birdseed that has fallen from the feeder
- Pet food (don't feed your pets outdoors)
How to Prevent a Possum Infestation
Preventing a possum infestation is easier than getting rid of a possum. Eliminate not only potential food sources but also areas a possum could use for shelter. Here are some great initial steps to take:
- Keep your yard free of fallen berries and fruits.
- Feed the birds sparingly.
- Use animal-proof trash cans.
- Use tumbler-style compost bins.
- Trim back any tree branches that have grown within 10 feet of your roof (they provide bridges to your home for possums)
- Close up any unintended access points to buildings (broken vents, screens with holes in them, etc.). Possums can exploit these points to enter the buildings and use them for shelter. This includes not only your home but your garage, outdoor storage sheds, etc.
Opossum vs. Possum
Following common practice, we have been referring to the pest in question as a "possum," but, technically, it is with getting rid of the "opossum" (Didelphis virginiana) that this article deals. The opossum is native to North America. Other animals, which are more precisely referred to as "possums," live in Australia and the surrounding area. An example is the common bushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula).
But the "o" is often dropped in colloquial speech when discussing Didelphis virginiana, as, in this shortened form, it rolls off the tongue more easily. Despite the fact that Didelphis virginiana and Trichosurus vulpecula (for example) are two completely different animals, they are both marsupials. In fact, the opossum is the only marsupial native to North America.
Is "Playing Possum" Myth or Fact?
Yes, possums really do "play possum" as the first line of defense when confronted with a predator. This comatose or catatonic state can last from 40 minutes to 4 hours. During this time, the body goes limp, suggesting death, which is sometimes enough for the predator to end its pursuit. If this device is not enough, the predator will usually be driven away by the offensive smell of the green mucus that the possum secretes from its anal glands while playing dead.
Do Possums Bother Chickens?
Yes. If you raise chickens you may have good reasons to get rid of possums. Possums do kill chickens and do eat chicken eggs.
Are Possums Dangerous?
Yes, but the necessity of getting rid of possums based on the danger they pose is much debated. For non-chicken owners, the debate is usually framed by the question of whether or not possums are dangerous to humans or to dogs. Some people, while acknowledging that possums can be dangerous under certain narrow circumstances, argue that the risk is low enough to preclude any serious worry. They will say that encounters between humans and possums or dogs and possums "rarely" end badly. While this may be true, it provides little consolation if you or a family member become one of these "rare" incidences.
While it is true that a possum usually prefers to flee or to play dead at the approach of a potential predator (dogs, humans), a possum, being a wild animal, is unpredictable. If it is cornered or is protecting its young, it may bite. The teeth are razor-sharp, so they can inflict a serious wound.
Do Possums Ever Get Into People's Houses?
Yes. And even if you don't mind having a possum in the yard, you may not want one in your house. Possums do get into people's homes, exploiting openings around attics, cellars, etc. If they always just left afterward, that would be one thing. But, occasionally, a possum will get into a house and either want to stay or else, for whatever reason, find that it is unable to exit the way it entered. This situation may necessitate calling in a pro to remove the possum.
Are Possums Good for Anything?
Yes. Possums are omnivores. They will eat just about anything, which is why, along with raccoons and skunks, you often find possums at the compost bin. Fortunately, they eat ticks (some of which carry the dreaded Lyme disease) and slugs, two of landscaping's worst pests.
Opossum Management Guidelines--UC IPM.
Controlling Racoon and Opossum Damage. University of Nebraska.