Possums, also known as opossums, are often misunderstood creatures that can evoke a range of emotions from fascination to fear. These small, nomadic marsupials are the only of their kind native to the United States and are often accused of causing property damage and spreading diseases. However, it’s important to separate fact from fiction when it comes to understanding the potential dangers posed by possums.
Officially known as the Virginian opossum, possums are the only marsupials native to the United States. With beady eyes and long whiskers, they look a little bit like rats. They have white faces, scaly tails, pink noses, sharp claws, and opposable thumbs. Like other marsupials, possums carry their offspring in a pouch. When a baby possum gets too big for the pouch, it will ride on the back of its mother until it is mature enough to live independently. Behavior-wise, possums are nocturnal, excellent climbers, slow-moving, and solitary.
Common Problems Caused by Possums
Like many pests, possums are opportunistic and need to be resourceful. Their basic instincts are to find shelter and food, even if it can lead to property damage, such as overturned trash cans, ransacked birdfeeders, raided chicken coops, torn ductwork or insulation, and more. They also can cause damage as they burrow under sheds, decks, and porches to build nests where they take shelter and raise their young.
Possums and Diseases
While possums are generally not aggressive, the most dangerous aspect of their presence is the potential transmission of bacteria and diseases. They can host parasites like fleas and diseases such as tuberculosis, leptospirosis, tularemia, spotted fever, Chagas disease, and more. However, it is rare for possums to have the rabies virus due to their low body temperature, which makes them unlikely carriers of rabies.
Living with Possums
Possums are not likely to prey on pets, and they can even provide some benefits by offering free pest control by eating a variety of insects, small snakes, mice, and baby rats. They also eat ticks that they find in their own fur while grooming their bodies. However, if they become a nuisance, there are humane ways to prevent and get rid of possums from your property, such as securing garbage cans, not leaving pet food outside, and using scare tactics like sprinklers or motion-activated lights.
What are common problems and solutions with possums?
Possums are often accused, but rarely responsible for getting into garbage cans or gardens. They’re certainly game to stop by and clean up the mess left by other wayward critters though! They’re also often accused of killing chickens, something that happens very rarely. Most people complain about possums just being there, rather than for any problems they cause.
How can I keep possums out?
The best way to keep possums from denning under a deck or patio is to make sure they can’t get there in the first place by keeping any holes filled. If you suspect a mother possum has already moved in, wait until she leaves her den and then close the opening with netting or straw. For permanent exclusion, putting in an ‘L’ footer is recommended.
Do possums carry rabies?
Rabies is extremely rare in possums, perhaps because they have a much lower body temperature compared to other warm-blooded animals.