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What to Do About Opossums

A gentle wild neighbor, the opossum is our only backyard marsupial and is rarely guilty of more than "playing 'possum."

Adapted from the book Wild Neighbors

  • Opossums are North America’s only marsupial. iStockphoto.com

Opossums get a bum rap. Often seen as a pest and accused of everything from knocking over garbage cans to killing chickens, these quiet marsupials are rarely a threat and easily sent on their way.

Common problems and solutions

Opossums are often accused, but rarely responsible for getting into garbage cans or gardens. They are certainly game to stop by and clean up the mess left by other wayward critters, though! They are often accused of killing chickens, something that happens very rarely. Most people complain about opossums just being there, rather than for any problems they cause.

Tolerance

Opossum are not aggressive: their open-mouth, defensive hissing is merely a bluff to look vicious. And if that doesn’t work they play dead when really scared!

If there is an opossum in the yard, don't worry. They aren’t a threat, and more than likely they will be moving on in a short while. The best way to keep them from visiting is to have tight-fitting lids on garbage cans, not to leave any pet food outside overnight and to remember to pick up any fruit that has fallen from trees.

But far from being a nuisance, opossums can be beneficial for your garden, eating snails, slugs, insects and sometimes even small rodents. They’ll even clean up spilled garbage and fruit that has fallen off trees.

How to keep opossums out

The best way to keep opossums from denning under a deck or patio is to make sure they cannot get there in the first place by keeping any holes filled.

If you suspect a mother opossum has already moved in, wait until she leaves her den (two hours after dark is generally a safe time). Then, loosely close the opening with netting, straw or other fibrous material. This will ensure that an animal trapped inside can clear the path to escape, but one outside will not disturb the blockage to get back in.

Opossum moms take their kids wherever they go, so there is not much chance that any babies will be left behind. But always check for youngsters before closing the opening. If the hole has not been disturbed for two or three nights, it’s safe to assume that no one is inside and the hole can be properly filled. For permanent exclusion we recommend putting in an "L" footer.

Every now and then, an opossum will get into a house through a pet door. Encourage them to leave by closing the doors to all rooms and opening the doors to the outside. Opossum are usually not aggressive, so you may be able to help them on their way by gently nudging them with a broom.

Rabies

People often mistake the open-mouth hissing and drooling behavior of opossums as a sign of rabies. However, this is just a bluffing behavior that opossums use as a defense mechanism. In fact, rabies is extremely rare in opossums, perhaps because they have a much lower body temperature compared to other warm-blooded animals.

Resources

» Purchase a copy of Wild Neighbors, the go-to guide for useful, humane solutions to conflicts with urban wildlife.
» If you are located within the D.C. Metro Area, take advantage of our wildlife-conflict resolution service. Learn More »
» The Opossum Society of the United States

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