Many of us have heard dramatic tales and warnings of rabid, diseased opossums. Also called possums, opossums are typically described as foaming at the mouth, hissing, and attacking cats and dogs in their back yards. Opossums just have a terrible reputation all around, but what if we told you that many of these accusations are unfounded.
We know this may sound like an extraordinary claim right now. However, if you will stick with us for a moment and continue reading, we will explain exactly why it could be beneficial for you to give possums a chance. The goal today is to tell you everything you need to know about opossums, and why these rodent look-a-likes are actually great helpers when it comes to controlling the population of mice and other pests.
Do Opossums Eat Mice and Rats?
Opossums are omnivores, which means they eat both meat and plants, and they make a habit of dining on small animals such as mice and rats. Opossums also have an unusually high need for calcium. Because of this, a possum will even eat the skeletons of any mice or other animals that it consumes.
Opossums also have a high immunity to many poisons and venoms which makes them one of the few animals that prey on venomous snakes including cottonmouths, copperheads, and rattlesnakes.
Do Opossums Hunt Mice and Rats?
While an opossum will eat mice and rats when they cross paths with them, they are not naturally predatory animals and will not actively hunt them down. Opossums are often described as the goats of the nocturnal world because they are so well known to eat literally anything.
An opossum’s diet can consist of everything from insects, snails, slugs, and snakes to rodents, dead animals, and sometimes even small critters like kittens. Opossums can change their diet depending on what they can find, the season, and their location, making them truly unique creatures.
Are Opossums Bad to Have Around Your House?
Possums are not great to have around your house even when they are kept outside. Opossums are opportunistic eaters, meaning anything that they can find they will absolutely eat. Unfortunately, this includes any pet food, garbage, and compost left outside.
How to Get Rid of Opossums
Keeping tight fitting lids on garbage cans and keeping compost secured is a great way to discourage opossums as well as raccoons. Also, if you have a dog or cat door, you will want to seal it in some way if you know you have an opossum outside.
Raccoons are a second example of opportunistic eaters. Because they are both scavengers, opossums and raccoons are often rivals in urban areas and will sometimes get into fights over food sources.
You can help to keep opossums from nesting in or around your home by blocking off any entry points to crawl spaces or under porches with hardware cloth or chicken wire. Another great solution is plastic sheeting around the bottoms of trees to keep opossums from climbing them.
Also, make a habit of keeping firewood tightly stacked, leaving no open spaces for a possum to nest, and leave plenty of space between your house and any plants, outdoor air conditioners, or piles of firewood. Opossums love to build their nests in small cracks and crevices.
Do Opossums Carry Disease?
Often thought of as filthy, rabid creatures, opossums are actually meticulous groomers who are obsessive about keeping clean. Opossums also have a naturally low body temperature which is the main reason that these critters rarely contract rabies. They can carry a variety of other diseases, however, including:
- Spotted Fever
- Chagas Disease
Pros and Cons of Opossums
While there are some advantages to having a possum around, the disadvantages far outweigh the benefits.
On the positive side, opossums are great for pest control because they will devour any readily available food source. The advantage here is that a variety of pests can be a food source for opossums including ticks which can carry lyme disease, cockroaches, and other insects, as well as rodents, snakes, snails, slugs, and even scorpions.
On the other hand, opossums often carry fleas that can be passed to your cat or dog. They may sometimes carry a number of diseases as well, and will do significant damage to the overall structure of your home should they attempt to make it their home and build a nest.
Should I Kill An Opossum In My Yard?
While we understand that not everyone will be thrilled with the idea of having a possum in their yard, we also can not condone killing one. One reason is that opossums are actually great to have in the environment since they kill pesky rodents, ticks, and venomous snakes. Safety, however, should also be a serious concern when dealing with any wild animal.
Opossums are docile by nature and will not attack unless provoked, but like any animal, if threatened they will defend themselves. Opossums have an exceptionally unique set of defense tools at their disposal and if cornered they will use them. Opossums have been known to bite, scratch, hiss, and sometimes play dead.
It is a little known fact that when an opossum plays dead is it actually a completely involuntary response to stress, similar to a human fainting. This sort of catatonic state can last for hours at a time. When this happens, an opossum will:
- Go Completely Still
- Curl Into a Ball
- Foam At The Mouth
- Excrete Foul Smelling Fluid
For all of these reasons, if you have an unwanted opossum (or any wild animal for that matter) in your yard, you should never attempt to kill or handle it yourself. Always call a pest control professional.
While opossums can help with pest control, and may not live up to the terrible reputation they have earned, they can still be hazardous to your yard or garden. If you are having problems with rodents or other pests, it may be tempting to let an opossum stick around your yard for awhile when you see one.
However, the best solution when dealing with any pests, is to leave it to the professionals. Call your local pest control provider and never approach a wild animal if you are not properly trained.