What came to America as pets and novelties in the early part of the 1900, has today adapted amazingly well to even the most densely populated areas across the country. We are talking about the Opossum, more commonly known as the Possum.
With a reputation that far precedes its name and a seemingly sinister appearance, especially when it feels threatened, it is no wonder that this tiny marsupial sparks panic among listless homeowners, who have no idea how to deal with it.
If you have recently come to believe, that your house is being shared with a possum family, then here’s all that you ever wanted to know about them, including the answer to the big question, are possums dangerous.
Decoding the Opossum
First things first, Possums are not rodents. So, if you ever thought that you are dealing with a filthy overgrown rat, which thrives in garbage, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Possums are Marsupials, a term for a mammal with a pouch, in which they carry their young ones. They are distant relatives of the Kangaroo and the only marsupials in North America.
They have been around since the Triassic era and have lived on the earth with Dinosaurs. That alone speaks volumes about the adaptability of these tiny critters.
It may sound that we are in awe of a creature that’s giving you sleepless nights and walks around your attic with a repulsive odor. But, we are just trying to explain, why this otherwise nomadic creature has sought refuge in your home.
What led it there?
Why Possums enter your home
Even if it has adapted itself as an urban wildlife species, a possum is a wild animal and it seeks what most animals do. Access to a never ending supply of food and a warm place that protects itself and its young from predators. Chances are, that it is getting what it is looking for.
The attic, the crawl space, the eavestrough or even the wall, can feel like the cozy hollow of its favorite tree, without pesky intruders.
And then there’s the food supply. Pet feeders, bird bath, trash cans, debris accumulated in the lawn, are either food sources or points for harborage. From fallen fruits, to insects to snakes to ticks and of course, pet food, its culinary repertoire is broad.
Most homeowners unknowingly create an inviting place for the possum. And when they realize that they have a problem that needs to be dealt with, they have no idea what to do.
If you encounter a possum with its young, it will do one of two things. It will run and play dead or, it will try to scare you away.
When it does try to scare you, it is not a pleasant sight to look at.
A possum will stand on its hind legs and reveal a dangerous looking set of pointed teeth (50 of them) and razor sharp claws, as it hisses and tries to intimidate you.
The question is, can it use either of those to hurt you or your children or your pets?
How dangerous are they?
The possum, by nature is a very docile animal. All the viciousness that it shows, is a mere defensive tactic to scare away an opponent, which in this case, could be you.
In fact, some wildlife experts have gone as far as putting their hand inside the mouth of a possum, while it bared its teeth. Guess what? They got it out unscathed.
So, 99 times out of 100, the possum will just do what its best at, play possum. It will not confront or attack you or your pets.
Having said that, it is recommended that you do not provoke a possum because wild animals can be unpredictable.
It’s never happened before, but you do not want to be the one that changes that statistic, do you? The last thing you want is a large mammal with razor sharp claws and teeth to attack you.
Do they carry disease?
According to the Opossum society, the chances of you getting a zootonic (passed from animal to human) disease from a Possum is far lesser, than that of you getting it from dogs and cats.
Then why does it have such a nasty reputation among homeowners?
Well, that’s partly due to the uncouth appearance that it has. The short haired body, the naked tail and the young ones clinging on to the teats, do not make a pretty picture.
As an opossum stands on its hind legs, hissing and growling, it can look very similar to a rabid animal, triggering the misconception that it may harbor rabies.
The fact is that the consistently low body temperature of the possum does not allow the rabies virus to survive in its body. So, the chances of a possum carrying rabies is extremely low.
Other than this, it is one of the most resilient creatures to any form of disease. So, the chances of you getting any disease from a possum is slim, unless you come into contact with its urine or feces.
Should I be bothered if a possum is living in my home?
Possums are nomadic by nature and known to change their dens very frequently. So, if you have one living in your attic or elsewhere in your home, it will mostly go away on its own.
But, if it’s making the place dirty or the repulsive odor is bothering you, then you can always contact a local pest company that is experienced in handling wildlife pest infestations.
On the other hand, if you wish to go the DIY route, then trapping and relocation is the most effective way to get rid of an existing possum problem. Irrespective of what they tell you, possum repellants rarely work. So, it would be a futile exercise to try that.
How do I prevent possums from entering my home?
As is the case with any other pest infestation, the best way to prevent a possum from entering your home is to make it unappealing to it.
- Cut out the food sources. Be diligent about locking your trash cans and keep the pet food locked away, when not in use.
- Secure your home and plug away any entry/exit points. Possums will gain entry through small openings like the attic vent, a broken window or a chimney cap. Seal any gaps or holes that you find.
- Keep your yard clean. Remove any overgrown bushes, accumulated debris and unused equipment or tools. Keep the grass trimmed and short.
That’s about it. With these simple techniques, you should be able to keep the possum out of your property. And if it still finds a way in, the situation demands professional solutions. Get in touch with a pest control company to assist you.