Typically shy and quiet, opossums (which are commonly referred to as “possums”) generally don’t cause much harm to people or plants. However, they can become a nuisance if they decide to raid your trashcans looking for a free meal, dig in your yard to find food or need to find a cozy place for winter.
Because their fur doesn’t provide much insulation from the cold, opossums typically spend the winter in dens that are dry, sheltered and safe. Opossums are vulnerable to frostbite on their hairless tails, ears and toes, so they often “hole up” during extremely cold spells. Their dens may be in:
- Hollow logs or trees
- Burrows dug by other animals
- Wood piles
- Rock crevices
- Spaces in buildings
They line their nests with dry grass, leaves and other soft material to help protect them from the cold. Interestingly, opossums carry nesting materials with their curled-up tails.
When it's cold, opossums may venture indoors. If given a chance when searching for a den site, they may even build a nest in your attic, chimney or crawl space.
It’s important to note though that opossums aren’t stationary. This is because they have no real defense besides showing their teeth or playing dead. To avoid predators, an opossum may move to a different nest every few days. In one study, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, a single male opossum outfitted with a tracking device visited 19 different dens in five months. Females with young, or opossums holed up during a cold spell, may spend longer in the same den.
When Are Opossums Active?
Opossums don’t hibernate in the winter. Because they don’t store up food, and don’t accumulate enough body fat to provide reserves, they must actively search for nourishment year-round. These nocturnal creatures usually spend their days in their dens, but sometimes they may be active during daylight, especially in the winter when food is scarce. At night they forage for food, traveling up to two miles from their home base.
What Attracts Opossums to Your House?
Opossums may enter your house looking for food or a nest site. They are omnivores, and they are voracious. Their diet includes fruit, nuts, grains, insects, slugs, snakes, mice, frogs, birds and carrion. Around your house, opossums may eat garbage, pet food and bird seed. To help encourage opossums to keep their distance, don’t feed them by keeping your garbage, pet food and birdseed in sealed containers. Also be sure to seal or repair any areas around your home that may provide opportunities for opossums to gain entry.
How to Help Get Rid of Opossums
If an opossum accidentally wanders into your house, don’t panic. Close the doors into adjacent rooms and contact a wildlife control professional. Although opossums are normally gentle and non-confrontational, if threatened they may hiss, growl and use their 50 teeth to defend themselves and their young. Getting rid of opossums in your attic or crawl space can be especially tricky, so leave the dirty work to the professionals.
Contact the wildlife removal and exclusion professionals at Terminix® to help keep your home free of unwanted guests all year-round.