How to Get Rid Of Opossums

46 min read| Updated for October, 2019

The Opossum, also referred to as possum, holds a very unique distinction. It’s the only marsupial that lives in the wild in North America. The nocturnal animal is great for pest control and typically keeps a low profile. Most of the time, you won’t even know it’s walked through your yard. The problem comes when it decides your home is a good place to stay for a while.

46 min read| Updated for October, 2019

TRACKS
HABITAT
Prefer environments near streams or swamps and take shelter in burrows of other animals, tree cavities, brush piles, and other cover.
SOUNDS
Known for hissing and growling when threatened, but also make clicking sounds when they’re trying to attract a mate.
SIZE
12-37″ and up to 14 pounds
DIET
Survive by eating vegetables, berries, nuts, fruit, garbage, pet food and bird seed.

Opossum Sounds

Possums are generally quiet animals and, outside of breeding, are pretty solitary. They are known for hissing and growling when threatened, but also make clicking sounds when they’re trying to attract a mate.

Identifying Animal Sounds

Opossum Tracks

Possums have five toes on their smaller front paw (measuring a little over an inch long and an inch and a half wide), and four toes along with an opposable thumb on their hind paws (roughly two inches long and a little over two inches wide). All toes—with the exception of the thumb—have claws. Their stride ranges between six and ten inches and front and hind tracks sometimes overlap.

Identifying Animal Tracks

Opossum Poop

Possum dropping are quite large, similar to dog poop with smooth sides and tapered ends. They average in three-quarters of an inch in diameter and tend to be more curled than straight. Because of possums tendency to be scavengers, their dropping can contain mold.

Identifying Animal Poop

Identify


Common Species

There are over 65 species of opossums, but only one is native to North America. The Virginia opossum is the one who roams the United States. Its name comes from the Algonquian Indian word “apasum” which means white animal. It was named Virginia opossum because that is the state where colonists first saw it.

Virginia Opossums

Appearance

  • Two and a half feet long
  • Weighs between eight and 13 pounds
  • Triangular head, long pointed, pink nose
  • Grayish-white fur everywhere but ears, feet, and tail

Behavior

  • Opportunistic eater but generally eats insects, snails, mice, rats
  • Lives in forests, open woods, farmland preferably near a water source
  • Nocturnal and solitary

Opossums have many interesting features. The animals have opposable thumbs on their back feet making it easier for them to hold onto things. They also have 50 sharp teeth. There are only two other mammals that have more teeth than an opossum—giant armadillos and toothed whales.

You may have playfully accused someone of ‘playing possum.’ That’s a real thing for the opossum. When they feel threatened, they will flop down or roll over, close their eyes or stare, stiffen up, and drool. Their breathing will also become more shallow. It can lead some predators to leave them alone and go away because they think the opossum is dead. Opossums can ‘play possum’ for up to four hours.

Opossums have many interesting features. The animals have opposable thumbs on their back feet making it easier for them to hold onto things. They also have 50 sharp teeth. There are only two other mammals that have more teeth than an opossum—giant armadillos and toothed whales.

You may have playfully accused someone of ‘playing possum.’ That’s a real thing for the opossum. When they feel threatened, they will flop down or roll over, close their eyes or stare, stiffen up, and drool. Their breathing will also become more shallow. It can lead some predators to leave them alone and go away because they think the opossum is dead. Opossums can ‘play possum’ for up to four hours.

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Their fear of predators keeps them on the move, and they typically change dens every few days.

Common Locations

Opossums once were only found in the southeastern United States, but in the early 1900s, the animals begin to move north and west. Although you typically won’t find them in the Rockies, the western plains and the extremely cold parts of some of the northern states. The animal can’t survive in extreme cold and deep snow. Their tails and ears do not have any fur on them, so they often suffer frostbite and can even lose the tips of their ears or part of their tails in harsh winter conditions.

The animal is a bit of a roamer. It doesn’t stay in one place too long, but you can usually find opossums living on farmland or in the woods and hanging out in trees. Opossums have a prehensile tail, which works a little like a fifth hand or foot. The tail allows them to grab and wrap around things like tree limbs, helps them keep their balance or helps them carry things to build a nest. Contrary to popular belief, though, opossums don’t sleep hanging upside down.

Opossums will den anywhere it considers safe. They won’t build their own nest if they don’t have to; instead, they will take shelter in tree cavities, rock crevices, wood and brush piles and burrows built by other animals. Opossums prefer to live somewhere close to a water source. That’s why you may often find them near marshes, swamps, and streams.

The animal is very adaptable, and that’s why you can commonly find them in cities and suburbs. They will sometimes nest in attics, garages, pipes, crawl spaces or under decks and buildings. Their fur isn’t a good insulator, so they fill their dens with dried leaves, grass, sticks and anything else they can find that will help keep them warm. So, if they do move in your attic or garage, they will create and leave a mess.

Opossums are nocturnal, so they typically don’t emerge until around dusk and will travel a good distance to find food. Their home range can extend between 10 and 50 acres. Their fear of predators keeps them on the move, and they typically change dens every few days. Researchers say one male opossum they tracked used 19 different dens over the course of five months. A mother opossum with babies or an opossum taking shelter from the cold will use the same den for a longer period of time.

They will eat pet food, bird seed and even rummage through your garbage cans looking for food.

Why They’re There

Opossums will feed on insects, slugs, worms, snakes, frogs, birds, bird eggs, mice, rats, small poultry and dead animals. They will also eat fruits, nuts, and grains. They don’t see very well at all, but they have a very keen sense of smell, and they rely on that to help them find food. Because they store very little body fat, they must forage for food all year long.

If you see them roaming around your property at night, they’re either looking for water or something to eat. Because they are scavengers, they will make a meal off almost anything. They will eat pet food, bird seed and even rummage through your garbage cans looking for food. If you have fruit trees, opossums will feast on any rotting fruit that has fallen. You may not want them around, but the animal is helpful because it gets rid of several pests that would otherwise try to inhabit our gardens and homes. For that reason, the Opossum Society of the United States calls the animal “Nature’s Little Sanitation Engineer.”

Sometimes, opossums will take shelter in your attic, garage, shed, under your house or your deck. They’re looking for a place to stay safe and warm. Opossums bodies aren’t insulated very well, and they have a lower body temperature than a lot of other animals. So, a warm place to rest and sleep is essential for them.

The other reason you might find an opossum on your property is a mother looking for a place to birth, raise and wean her babies. Breeding season for opossums can start as early as December and run through October. Female opossums will most likely give birth to up to three litters a year.

Mother opossums give birth a little less than two weeks after becoming pregnant. The babies are tiny, bean size embryos at birth and have to travel from the birth canal to the mother’s pouch and find the nutrition source to latch on to. There can be as many as 20 infant opossums born at one time, but mothers average 13 teats, and not all of them may work adequately. So, usually, only eight or nine of the babies survive.

The young opossums nurse in the pouch until they’re about three months old. Once they become too big for the pouch, they climb on their mother’s back and she totes them around while she looks for food. Baby opossums are usually on their own by the time they are five months old.

Opossum Sounds

Possums are generally quiet animals and, outside of breeding, are pretty solitary. They are known for hissing and growling when threatened, but also make clicking sounds when they’re trying to attract a mate.

Identifying Animal Sounds

Opossum Tracks

Possums have five toes on their smaller front paw (measuring a little over an inch long and an inch and a half wide), and four toes along with an opposable thumb on their hind paws (roughly two inches long and a little over two inches wide). All toes—with the exception of the thumb—have claws. Their stride ranges between six and ten inches and front and hind tracks sometimes overlap.

Identifying Animal Tracks

Opossum Poop

Possum dropping are quite large, similar to dog poop with smooth sides and tapered ends. They average in three-quarters of an inch in diameter and tend to be more curled than straight. Because of possums tendency to be scavengers, their dropping can contain mold.

Identifying Animal Poop

Inspect


How Do I Know I Have Opossums In My Attic, Garage, Etc.?

Noise

Noise may be the first clue that you have an opossum in your attic, garage or shed. You will more than likely hear it before you see it. You will hear it moving and walking around on your ceiling and sometimes because opossums are excellent climbers, you will hear it in the walls. The animals roam and don’t stay confined to one space, so you will likely hear it in several parts of your attic space.

You may hear scratching, ripping, hissing or shrieking. If a mother is with her babies, you may also hear clicking and lip-smacking sounds.

Smell

Opossum droppings can be as large as cat droppings. They are typically wet, so they soak into insulation and building materials and cause a very unpleasant odor.

Damage

Opossums are climbers so you may see evidence of damage from their climbing on your shingles, wood siding and even your gutters. And you are likely to see damage at the entry point.

Will My Outdoor Pets Be Harmed?

Opossums are typically non-aggressive and avoid confrontation. There’s a better chance that a dog will attack an opossum than vice versa. Cats and opossums seem to have mutual respect and leave one another alone. In some instances, cat owners have seen their pet outside eating cat food alongside an opossum. Most of the time, if you have pets, an opossum won’t engage them. Instead, it will look for another route and escape. But if it does feel threatened, it may show its teeth or bite in self-defense.

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Should I Trap And Relocate Opossums?

The easy and straightforward answer is no. It’s not recommended to try and trap an opossum on your own. Once you catch a possum, it may scratch or bite you through the cage because it’s angry. If you want to go this route to get rid of the animal, it’s best to call a certified wildlife control expert to take care of the problem. They are trained to capture the animal safely.

Gather The Tools You’ll Need

Gloves

for protection when cleaning messes left by opossums

Ladder

to inspect areas high off the ground for possible opossum damage

Flashlight

to see in dark spaces where opossums, their mess and damage may be

Opossums keep consistent foraging routes, so they may not be living in your yard.

How-To Steps for DIY Removal

While opossums are beneficial in keeping away rodents and insects, you still don’t want them living in your house. There are some things you can do to get them to move on.

Tear Up The Nest

If you’ve discovered opossums in your attic, crawl space or under your deck, wait until dusk and then once the animal leaves the nest, tear the nest apart and throw it away. Baby opossums will be with their mother foraging, so there’s no danger to them. Be sure and wear protective clothing when handling the nesting materials and wash your hands and yourself thoroughly after removal.

Coax Them Out

Sometimes, an opossum will get in through a pet door. If that happens, shut all the inside doors in your house and open all the outside doors. Wildlife experts say opossums aren’t typically aggressive. You may try sprinkling a trail of pet food to the door. The opossum will follow it, eat it and let itself out.

Board Up The Entrance

If an opossum has moved in under your deck or in your attic, find the entrance and exit hole and wait for them to leave—about two hours after dusk is usually a good time. Once the opossum is out foraging for food, close the opening with netting or some other type of material so they can’t get back in. Once daylight hits, you can cover it with more permanent material.

Trim Branches

Opossums like to climb trees, and if branches and limbs hang above your roof, it can make it easy for them to get on top of your house and in your attic. Keep your branches and limbs trimmed back at least five feet away from your roof line.

Make Noise

If opossums are living under your deck or porch, take a portable radio, turn it to a talk station and leave it on during the day. The noise will disturb them while they are resting or sleeping and force them to leave or keep them from coming back.

Make Your Own Repellent

Take a coffee can and puncture it in several places. Soak some old rags in ammonia and put them inside the can and put the lid back on. Place the coffee can near the entry point. The smell will deter opossums. You will have to soak the rags in ammonia every day for it to continue to be effective.

Light It Up

You can put portable lights near the place where the opossums are getting in. Turn them on during the day while the animal is trying to rest or sleep. It will frustrate an opossum and cause it to leave. Flashing Christmas lights are particularly effective.

Wait Them Out

If the opossum is staying on a part of your property where you can wait on them to leave, that’s an easy solution. Opossums are roamers and generally move to another den within a few days or a couple of weeks. So, if they’re living in a barn or shed and you can wait for them to move out, do so.

One thing to keep in mind is, just because you see an opossum in your yard doesn’t mean it’s taking up residence on your property. Opossums keep consistent foraging routes, so they may not be living in your yard, it may just be their cut through to get to the food they’re searching for.

If you are bitten or scratched by an opossum, it’s important that you clean the wound and see a doctor immediately.

Risks Of Disease

The risk of disease or illness from an opossum is very low. Possums may be carriers of disease and parasites, but the chance of transmission to a human is minimal. If you are bitten or scratched by an opossum, it’s important that you clean the wound and see a doctor immediately. If you handle a dead opossum or clean up the droppings it leaves behind, be sure and wear gloves and protective clothing and wash your hands immediately and thoroughly.

Opossums do carry a parasite that causes Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM) and can be of great concern if you have or raise horses. EPM is an infection of the central nervous system. Weakness, dizziness, and spasticity are all symptoms. If you have horses on your property, you will want to take steps to make the area where you keep the horses less attractive to opossums.

Opossum Sounds

Possums are generally quiet animals and, outside of breeding, are pretty solitary. They are known for hissing and growling when threatened, but also make clicking sounds when they’re trying to attract a mate.

Identifying Animal Sounds

Opossum Tracks

Possums have five toes on their smaller front paw (measuring a little over an inch long and an inch and a half wide), and four toes along with an opposable thumb on their hind paws (roughly two inches long and a little over two inches wide). All toes—with the exception of the thumb—have claws. Their stride ranges between six and ten inches and front and hind tracks sometimes overlap.

Identifying Animal Tracks

Opossum Poop

Possum dropping are quite large, similar to dog poop with smooth sides and tapered ends. They average in three-quarters of an inch in diameter and tend to be more curled than straight. Because of possums tendency to be scavengers, their dropping can contain mold.

Identifying Animal Poop

Prevent


You may have never had a problem with opossums at your home, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. There are some steps you can take to keep them away from your property.

Don’t Leave Pet Food Out

The animals feed at night, and they will eat anything—even Rover and Fluffy’s food. So, be sure and put the food away in a safe place or bring it in where it won’t be a temptation for an opossum.

Pick Up Rotten Fruit

If fruit trees dot your landscape, keep the rotten fruit picked up and off the ground. Opossums enjoy feeding on it and will quickly make your yard one of their favorite dining spots.

Secure Your Garbage Cans

Don’t leave your garbage cans uncovered, especially at night. Opossums will gladly rummage through it looking for food. So be sure the lids are on your garbage cans, and they are tightly secured.

Close Garage Doors, Pet Doors, Unscreened Windows

When night falls, opossums start roaming. Their keen sense of smell may lead them right to your open garage or through your pet door or unscreened window. It would be bad enough to have them in your attic—you don’t want them in your house.

Cover Your Chimney

Install a professional chimney cap to keep opossums out of your chimney. And if you have outdoor vents in your attic, buy grid screens to place over them.

Cover Open Spaces

Covering open spaces is particularly important if you live in a mobile home. If the space beneath the home is open, it can be an inviting nesting place for opossums. Cover the open area below the house with wire cloth, cement blocks or wood lattice. Make sure the covering extends from the ground to the bottom of your home, and it connects or overlaps on the sides. Doing so will keep opossums from going underneath.

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Opossum Problem?

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Expert Near You

 

Find a Local Experts

Opossums can climb, and they may use the ivy or another climbing plant you have on your house as a way to crawl up and get in.

Move Or Get Rid Of The Bird Feeder

Opossums will eat bird seed that has dropped to the ground around the feeder. So, you may want to consider moving the feeder farther away from your house or getting rid of it altogether.

Turn On The Lights

Opossums are nocturnal creatures, so they prefer the dark. If you leave porch and floodlights on at night for several nights, it can discourage opossums from coming into your yard.

Clear Bushes, Woodpiles Or Brush Piles

Having a tidy property is always a good idea, but it also keeps unwanted creatures away. Opossums like to nest in bushes and wood and brush piles. So, keep your landscaping groomed and don’t leave wood or brush piles laying in your yard for long periods of time.

Don’t Grow Ivy On Your Home

Opossums can climb, and they may use the ivy or another climbing plant you have on your house as a way to crawl up and get in. These plants are attractive to look at it, but if you live near a wooded area, it could be an invitation for opossums.

Maintain Your Property

Keep a close eye on your home, garage or shed for any open holes or gaps in the structure. Fixing those properly will go a long way in keeping opossums from nesting in and around your home.

Cover Your Dryer Vents

Opossums can use your improperly covered dryer vent as an entry point into your home. Screw a slotted metal vent cover onto the vent. It will provide enough room for steam and smoke from your dryer to escape, but not enough for the opossum to sneak through.

Don’t Feed Opossums

If you feed opossums, they will often lose their fear of humans and may get aggressive if they aren’t fed as expected. They could end up harming you, your neighbors or your pets.

Opossum Sounds

Possums are generally quiet animals and, outside of breeding, are pretty solitary. They are known for hissing and growling when threatened, but also make clicking sounds when they’re trying to attract a mate.

Identifying Animal Sounds

Opossum Tracks

Possums have five toes on their smaller front paw (measuring a little over an inch long and an inch and a half wide), and four toes along with an opposable thumb on their hind paws (roughly two inches long and a little over two inches wide). All toes—with the exception of the thumb—have claws. Their stride ranges between six and ten inches and front and hind tracks sometimes overlap.

Identifying Animal Tracks

Opossum Poop

Possum dropping are quite large, similar to dog poop with smooth sides and tapered ends. They average in three-quarters of an inch in diameter and tend to be more curled than straight. Because of possums tendency to be scavengers, their dropping can contain mold.

Identifying Animal Poop

When to Call a Professional


If you’ve tried and haven’t been successful, or you aren’t sure you want to tackle getting rid of an opossum, you should call a wildlife removal expert.

One thing a professional may do is install a one-way door at the entry point. The animal will be able to go out but not come back in. Once the opossums have left, you can permanently seal the entrance hole. They can also successfully trap the animals and know how to relocate them properly.

Sources

https://opossumsocietyus.org/general-opossum-information/
http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/opossum.htm
https://wdfw.wa.gov/living/opossums.html
https://www.paws.org/index.php/library/wildlife/mammals/opossums/
https://opossumsocietyus.org/general-opossum-information/opossum-reproduction-lifecycle/
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/group/opossums/
http://www.greenleafpest.com/blog/opossum-my-possum-5-signs-of-opossum-infestation-in-your-home
https://pestworldforkids.org/pest-guide/opossums/
http://www.projectwildlife.org/animals.php?id=9
https://www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/3367.htm
http://www.hhpz.org/files/hhpz/documents/AnimalFactSheets/Virginia%20Opossum.pdf
https://www.opossum.org/discourage.html
https://sciencing.com/dangers-opossums-12044960.html

Treating Your Property For Opossums

Critter-Repellent Shake-Away All Natural Small for Rabbits, Gopher, Groundhogs, Possum, Porcupines,...
ALL NATURAL - Nature’s Most Powerful Repellent - Animals' inborn fear of predators; EASIEST to USE - No Spray, No Mess, Just Sprinkle in the area you wish to protect
$27.50
Sale
Garden Creations JB5028 Ultrasonic Cordless Pest Repeller
Ship cost for additionals of this item is only $1.50
$15.49
Sale
Safer 5929 Brand Critter Ridder Animal Repellent Granules, Green
Repels raccoons, skunks, dogs, cats, squirrels, groundhogs, and chipmunks; Uses oil of Black pepper, piperine, and Capsaicin to keep critters away
$26.45

Opossum Problem?

Find a Local Wildlife
Expert Near You

 

Find a Local Experts

Sources

http://www.pestdetective.org.nz/clues/other-clues/sound/
https://www.bear-tracker.com/opossum.html
http://www.wildlife-removal.com/possumpoop.html

Opossum Sounds

Possums are generally quiet animals and, outside of breeding, are pretty solitary. They are known for hissing and growling when threatened, but also make clicking sounds when they’re trying to attract a mate.

Identifying Animal Sounds

Opossum Tracks

Possums have five toes on their smaller front paw (measuring a little over an inch long and an inch and a half wide), and four toes along with an opposable thumb on their hind paws (roughly two inches long and a little over two inches wide). All toes—with the exception of the thumb—have claws. Their stride ranges between six and ten inches and front and hind tracks sometimes overlap.

Identifying Animal Tracks

Opossum Poop

Possum dropping are quite large, similar to dog poop with smooth sides and tapered ends. They average in three-quarters of an inch in diameter and tend to be more curled than straight. Because of possums tendency to be scavengers, their dropping can contain mold.

Identifying Animal Poop

Opossum Problem?

Find a Local Wildlife
Expert Near You

 

Find a Local Experts