Possums are excellent to have around the house. They clear out garbage, feed on harmful insects and have charming, rat-like tails. Not impressed? You’re not alone. While many people have an appreciation for wildlife, it’s best for wildlife to stay in the wild. Having possums lurk around your home in the middle of the night is not the most pleasant thought. So how do you get rid of possums that have become all too eager to call you neighbor? There are a few ways to solve this dilemma.
Regions and identification
The first step to opossum control is proper identification. The Virginia opossum is the only species found in the United States, although despite its name, it can be found in many other regions. According to Pennsylvania State University (Penn State):
“The Virginia opossum (Dedeliphis virginiana) is North America’s only marsupial (“pouched”) mammal. It is found often very abundantly throughout the eastern and midwestern United States westward into Colorado and Texas. It is also found in the western coastal states of California, Oregon, and Washington and in the southern regions of British Columbia. It is not typically found in mountainous regions, in extreme deserts, or in the high northern sections of the United States.”
Before deciding how to get rid of a possum, verify the animal you are dealing with. Possums at first glance, might be confused with large house cats. According to Penn State:
“Adult Virginia opossums are between 24 and 40 inches long. This overall length includes a 10 to 12 inch long tail. They weigh between 4 and 12 pounds with males being larger than females. They have long, coarse dark gray to white-gray outer body fur with a black or dark brown underfur. This darker fur, then, predominates on the legs. Each foot has five toes. The first toe of each hind foot lacks a claw and is opposable ('thumb like'). They have large, black, hairless ears, small black eyes, and white, fur covered faces. Their snouts are long and pointed and tipped with a distinctive, pink nose.”
Your main reason for questioning how to get rid of possums may stem from a concern about disease. Many people fear that possums are rabid creatures. However, while possums do carry certain diseases, they appear to have a certain resistance to rabies. The Wildlife Rescue League states:
“Opossums do not harbor diseases normally found in dogs and cats, such as distemper, parvovirus, or feline hepatitis. All warm-blooded mammals can contract rabies, but opossums are rarely found to be rabid. Scientists believe that a body temperature too low to support the rabies virus is the reason.”
They do carry other diseases that may be of concern to homeowners and their pets. According to the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Department:
“Opossum carry diseases such as leptospirosis, tuberculosis, relapsing fever, tularemia, spotted fever, toxoplasmosis, coccidiosis, trichomoniasis, and Chagas disease. They may also be infested with fleas, ticks, mites, and lice. Opossum are hosts for cat and dog fleas, especially in urban environments.”
Benefit to ecosystem
It is important to get rid of possums that are causing havoc in your home, but not all possums are bad. According to the Wildlife Rescue League, “Opossums are excellent at rodent and insect control, and being carrion eaters, they help keep roadways and neighborhoods clean.”
It also states that, “Opossums are more beneficial as scavengers, than harmful for any damage they may cause. A neighborhood with opossums tends to be considerably cleaner than a neighborhood without them.”
Opossum removal can be a challenging task. The best method for controlling an opossum population is prevention. The Wildlife Rescue League recommends the following:
Do not leave pet food or trash outdoors at night. This is always an invitation to dinner.
Pick fruit and garden crops when they are ripe to discourage opossums, and do not leave rotten fruit or crops on the ground.
Eliminate brush piles, dilapidated buildings, and holes under concrete slabs – you will eliminate opossum hotels. Opossums use the abandoned burrows of other animals rather than digging their own.
Secure pet doors at night, as opossums occasionally enter homes through pet doors. Once inside, they can generally be coaxed outside with a broom. Opossums seldom stay in one area for more than a few nights, so fear of them "taking over" an area should not be a concern. Occasionally a mother with babies might stay longer, but will leave after a brief period as well.
When possum removal becomes essential, there are a few methods to consider. Trapping is a popular method. The University of California provides the following advice:
“Opossum are not wary of traps and can easily be caught with a box or cage-type, live-catch trap. Traps should be at least 10 x 12 x 32 inches in size and set along trails or known routes of travel. Fish-flavored canned cat food works well as trap bait but often attracts cats as well. To avoid this possibility, try using whole raw chicken eggs, or jam or peanut butter spread on a bit of bread. Other baits can include overripe fruit such as grapes, bananas, or melon. Live trapping presents the problem of dealing with the animal once captured. Since it is illegal to relocate an opossum without a permit, those not wanting to deal with its disposal may prefer to hire a professional wildlife control operator.”
A pest management professional can also be of assistance. If your new neighbors happen to have rat-like tails and pig-like snouts, it’s time to call Terminix®. A service technician will develop a customized plan for possum control to keep them away from your home.