You’ve spotted an opossum near your house — should you be concerned? Are possums dangerous? We’ll break down the benefits and risks of possums in your yard so you’ll know exactly what to do.
To some possums are adorable little nuisances, while others praise them from keeping your home pest free. Possums are essential to the outdoor ecosystem, but should you keep them around your home? The answer isn’t a clear cut, yes or no. You’ll need to consider many factors to decide if it’s worth trying to get rid of them.
Possum vs. Opossum
First things first…
If you see one of these creatures in the yard, should you call it a possum or an opossum?
Opossums are the official name of the marsupial that lives in North America, and the animal that you’d see in your yard if you live here. Possums are a different species (though similar in behavior) that lives on the other side of the world, in Australia and the Pacific.
That being said, it’s considered acceptable to use the shortened version of the name to refer to opossums here in the States.
I grew up calling them possums, which is why you’ll see both words used interchangeably here.
Possums are Misunderstood Creatures
While most people could recognize a possum if they saw one, many people do not know a lot about them, aside from the fact that they “play dead.” They are often very misunderstood!
Common misconceptions about possums are that they spread rabies and that they are aggressive. Hissing or playing dead are survival mechanisms that they use to avoid being harmed. While some possums can carry diseases with them, not all of them do.
Benefits of Possums
In many situations, the benefits of having possums around outweighs potential risks or the effort to get rid of them. As scavengers, they can be very helpful to have around!
1. Possums Clean Up Trash
Like raccoons, possums are notorious for cleaning up yards — think of them like a living garbage disposal! Opossums will wander and pick up trash that might have fallen into your yard. They will also eat rotten fruit that falls from trees, or other things that you don’t want in your yard anyway.
2. Possums Eat Bugs
Possums are nature’s pest control service! They love to eat ticks, roaches, and even small mice or rats.
3. Possums Protect Your Garden
Not only do possums enjoy snacking on pests in the yard, they also eat garden pests! Snails, slugs, and other insects that wreak havoc on garden plants are prime targets for hungry possums.
4. Possums Keep Roads Clear
Roadkill is an unfortunate fact of life, especially in rural areas with a higher wildlife population. Possums are part of the natural ecosystem, and will step in to help take care of carcasses.
Possums Usually Mind their Own Business
While possums might not be the most adorable house guests to keep around, they usually go about their business with little disruption to your life or anyone else’s.
Possums are scavengers, so they are going to hunt for food by wandering to find it. If they aren’t causing trouble in your yard or getting inside your home, there is usually no reason to get rid of them.
While they might not be causing you any problems, they help get rid of pests and other home nuisances.
If you see a possum wandering your yard, it’s best to leave them by unless you have a reason to suspect a problem.
Will Possums Attack Humans?
When it comes to fight or flight, possums will almost always choose flight. They would rather escape and avoid a potentially deadly (for them) confrontation with a larger animal or human.
However, if startled, opossums may hiss as an attempt to scare you away. If you leave them alone they will usually retreat on their own. If the hissing doesn’t work, an opossum may try to “play dead” next.
Another instance where an opossum might appear aggressive is if you’ve stumbled too close to a mother and her babies. Possums will indeed try to protect their young. But again, if you leave them alone, they will go their own way.
Do Possums Carry Rabies?
According to the Humane Society of the United States, it is rare for opossums to carry rabies. The most likely reason is that their body temperature is low compared to other warm blooded animals.
As mentioned above, hissing is a defense mechanism for opossums, not a sign of rabies.
Are Possums Dangerous to Pets or Livestock?
While possums aren’t always bad, there are a couple instances in which you may want to reconsider allowing them to stay on your land.
First, opossums may be infested with fleas or lice. The fleas can be passed to domestic animals, such as dogs or cats. If you have pets that spend a lot of time outdoors, you won’t want possums sharing that space.
Another issue is equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM), which is a disease that causes neurological damage and even death in horses. Opossums are a frequent carrier of this protozoa, and their feces can contaminate grass, feed, and water sources that horses use.
Horse owners should take special care to keep opossums away from livestock food sources or any area that horses live. Possums don’t always carry diseases with them, but it’s a chance you don’t want to take.
How to Get Rid of Opossums
If you discover an opossum in your house or attic, you’ll need to trap them to remove them. This is probably best left to the professionals, so if you find yourself in this situation, contact a local pest control company.
The best way to keep opossums away from your yard is to eliminate any reason for them to be there:
- Secure trash cans at all times with sturdy lids. Do not leave any trash bags out or loose trash on the ground.
- If you have fruit trees or plants in your yard, pick up any fruits that fall on the ground.
- Close and lock all cat/dog doors at night.
You’ll also want to make sure that there is nowhere for opossums to take up residence near your home. Common places in your yard that possums (and other unwanted visitors) may find appealing as a place to stay:
- Brush piles
- Old storage sheds, doghouses, etc.
- Underneath porches and patios
Keeping your yard tidy and house secure are the best ways to prevent any unwanted pests from overstaying their welcome!