Opossums are the only marsupial found in North America, a family of animals that contains more than 250 species, including koalas, wombats, wallabies, and kangaroos.
Prolific breeders and incredibly adaptable to new habitats and conditions, the opossum is now a very common pest across most of North America, and are one of the pest problems we are called out for the most.
It is the Virginia opossum that you are likely to encounter problems with in the US, also known as simply opossum, or even possum. The animal is around the size as the average house cat, but sizes have been known to vary a lot depending on habitat, food type, and other predators/wildlife in the area.
As a general rule, southern opossums are smaller than their northern counterparts; as much as 20 times smaller/lighter.
Adult male opossums can weigh up to 15 pounds, whereas females are smaller: under 10 pounds.
Mostly gray in color, opossums can come in a variety of shades and patterns, with flecks of dark grays and blacks mixed in with lighter, almost white markings. They have long, rat-like tails, more teeth than other mammals in North America (50), and a long nose and fur-less ears.
In perfect conditions (such as in captivity), opossums can live for around 4 or 5 years. In the wild, however, their lifespans are considerably shorter: a maximum of 2 years.
Opossums will breed two times, sometimes three, in one year, and females are pregnant for around 2 weeks before giving birth to as many as 20 young opossums, also known as joeys. They will immediately travel to the mother's pouch after birth, in the same way that kangaroo young do, for around 3 months, spending more and more time outside of the pouch as they get older. Females will also transport joeys from location to location by carrying them on her back, and it is common for people to find lone youngsters. In most cases, the female will come back for her offspring.
Opossums live in small cracks and crevices in the wild, and they look for similar spots in human-habited areas too. They would much rather find a home than build one of their own and it is very common for opossums (and other nuisance wildlife) to utilize underground dens and burrows left by other animals. Brushy and heavily-treed areas are preferable.
Opossum dens are found underneath rock and wood piles; in tree hollows and around fallen logs; in, around or under sheds, garages, porches, decking, outbuildings, and even concrete/sidewalks.
The animal is an avid climber, so it is not unusual to find opossums and their nests in upper levels of buildings, including attics, crawl spaces, and wall cavities alongside basement areas.
Opossums are scavengers, just like rats, which means they will eat virtually anything they come across. This includes roadkill, abandoned carcasses, garbage bag leftovers and rotting foods, fallen fresh or rotting fruit and vegetables, bird seed, cat/dog food, chicken feed, any human food (fresh, cooked, or raw), and even insects, snakes, frogs, fish, eggs, worms, and small birds.
Although there are benefits to having opossums around, such as the animals eating rats, mice, and insects that would otherwise become much more bothersome, there are definite drawbacks to sharing your property with this nuisance animal.
Opossums will get into your trash can, vegetable patch, and other food areas, ruining everything it touches by contaminated it with potentially deadly disease pathogens, and they'll make a mess of your property as they do so.
They'll also cause damage to your home or other structures on the property as a result of trying to get inside the property, as well as causing damage inside the property once they are successful. This can mean costly repairs including attic insulation replacement; repairs to roof tiles, fascias, guttering, siding, etc; complete decontamination and sanitizing; plumbing or electrical repairs; and more.
By far the best way to prevent problems with opossums is to make sure that food isn't available to them.
Alongside that, keeping your buildings (home and outbuildings) are completely sealed so that animal intruders can't find a way to get inside. You will need to have the property inspected regularly (twice a year is optimum) to recognize and resolve all crisis points before they have the opportunity to become them.
The professionals have a number of tools that will help with the removal of opossums, and the removal approach itself will depend on the specific situation.
Exclusion devices act as one-way doors for wildlife and can be a very effective approach, but this is only the case if any joeys are old enough to leave the nest, or the mother takes them with her when she leaves.
Physical trapping and removal is a great option for the removal of entire families of opossums and in some cases, the joeys can be captured and then used as bait to capture the mother.
We NEVER use poison or dangerous, toxic chemicals to get rid of opossums or other wildlife and we highly recommend avoiding this method of control.
1 - ‘Playing dead' is not something an opossum does because it wants to; it performs this playing-dead action as a natural bodily response to fear or attack.
2 - There are more than 100 different species of opossum around the world, and the animal is endemic to North and South America.
3 - Opossums do not hibernate, but they do sleep a lot more during the winter, and activity slows right down.
To learn more about opossums, see: