How To Get Rid of Opossums
17–20 minutes to read | Updated for 2018
Opossums are the only marsupials that live in North America. Like other marsupials, their young develop in an exterior pouch like kangaroos rather than inside a womb within a placenta.
They’re omnivores that will feed on almost anything. But because they have so successfully adapted to human environments, they can easily become nuisance animals in urban settings or even in neighborhoods where they forage through trash cans.
Despite their adaptability, opossums are slow runners with poor eyesight, which is why they are easily run over by cars. When they are alive, however, they can disturb pets and create a racket outside while going through garbage. They can become a pest issue on your porch or inside your basement, attic or crawl spaces.
All opossums range about 21 to 36 inches long, measured from nose to the tip of their tail. They’re similar in size to a cat or a small dog. Some of their more identifiable characteristics are their pointed head and pink nose, a long, hairless tail, and hairless, pointy ears. Their mouths contain 50 small, sharp, teeth. They also feature opposable thumbs on their hind feet.
The Virginia Opossum is the only opossum species native to America, and it is the only variety known to cause problems in the U.S.
How To Identify:
Ranges from 13” to 22” long
Fur ranges from gray to black; some have a reddish or brown tint
White hairs scattered throughout their coat
Likes to make its home near water sources like ponds, swamps, and drainage ditches
Nocturnal and active throughout the year but limits its activity in the winter and spends its time scavenging on the ground or on trees
Found along the entire Southeastern U.S. starting at the Rocky Mountains, but also as far north as Canada and as far south as Costa Rica
The Common Opossum (also known as the Southern Opossum) prefers habitats near water like tropical forests, but will also be found close to people in urban areas.
How To Identify:
Ranges from 10.5” to 17”
Fur ranges from grey to black, with white hairs interspersed and on their faces
Found throughout Central and South America from Mexico down to Bolivia
Nocturnal and active year-round like other opossum species, but less likely than other varieties to be found on trees
Gray Short-tailed Opossum
Much more difficult to spot because of its size and relatively small geography, the gray short-tailed opossum is known to be more aggressive than other species, especially while they are mating.
How To Identify:
Length ranges from 4” to 6” (much smaller than its cousin species)
Fur is lighter in color than other species, ranging from light grey to white
Found in South America throughout Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay
Habitats are among vegetation in forests and grassy areas.
Small enough to make its way inside human homes
Opossums Versus Possums
- The opossum is native to North and South America, while possums are only found in Australia.
- Although they’re named after each other because of their resemblance, possums have longer, furry tails while opossum’s tails are hairless.
- In general, possums are fluffier, smaller, and with less severe features.
Breeding season is almost year-round, from January through mid-November
Litters usually consist of six to nine pups
Born 12 days after breeding, the opossum’s pups crawl into the mother’s pouch to continue developing
Venture outside the maternal pouch at 60 to 70 days old and fully leave within 80 to 90 days.
Remain with their mother for three to four months
Average lifespan ranges from one to two years
Can Opossums Transmit Diseases to People?
Opossums can transmit leptospirosis, coccidiosis, tularemia, tuberculosis, and toxoplasmosis when they scratch and bite. Contact with their feces and urine also puts humans at risk for these diseases. As they known to “play dead,” steer clear of one whether you believe it is alive or not.
Why Are There Opossums On My Property?
Opossums are scavengers and will eat just about anything. They are attracted to overflowing or odorous trash cans, uncovered compost heaps or other containers that you may have outside. They like to set up their habitat near water or moist areas. If you live near a pond, drainage ditch or sewer, you’re more likely to see opossums on your property.
Because of their size and activity, you will probably hear the signs of an opossum infestation before you see them.
Opossums are known to scratch while they’re looking for food and will make hissing and screeching noises. If you’ve also noticed property damage and signs of your trash being picked through, it’s time to perform a full inspection so you can be certain that opossums are the pest you’re dealing with.
Signs of Damage
- Trash left outside of the can, with clear signs of tampering
- Scratch marks on the outside of your home and garbage cans
- Foul odors
- Disappearing pet food
- Tracks with opposable thumbs
- Nesting materials inside holes, cracks, logs, brush, or even inside your attic or basement
Gather the Tools You’ll Need
a good flashlight
Step 1: Survey Your Property for Damage
Taking the above clothing precautions, choose a time to walk throughout your property and look for any signs of opossums. First, look at your trash cans and see if it looks like they’ve been tampered with or any trash has been taken out. If so, this is most likely the source of the food they’re getting from your property. Next, look for signs of scratching along the outside of your house. These are signs that the opossum could be looking for a way inside to get to more food. Also keep an eye out for droppings, which can be as large as cat droppings.
Step 2: Find the Nest
If you’ve noticed property damage that is happening over and over again, there is probably an opossum nest nearby. Using a flashlight, look in any covered spaces like hollow logs, brush, holes or crevices near your house. While opossums don’t create a nesting area themselves, they usually bring nesting materials into a safe, already-covered space. If you’ve heard noises in your attic, carefully check to see if they’ve moved their nest there.
Step 3: Bait the Opossum
If all else fails, it isn’t hard to spot an opossum coming out for food at night. You could even strategically place some food near a window to see if an animal comes to get it. This will help you know for sure that you’re dealing with an opossum rather than another type of foraging creature like a raccoon.
Step 4: Develop a Treatment Plan
Knowing that you’re experiencing an opossum problem on your property will allow you develop a targeted and successful treatment plan. This will include a multi-pronged effort toward releasing the trash and food available to them as well as eradicating them through trapping, repellents, poisons or other methods. You may wish to contact a professional animal removal service to take care of the problem as quickly and efficiently as possible.
If you’re already dealing with an opossum problem, your first step is remediation. Sanitize your property and remove all of the things that attract opossums.
Food sources like your trash and hiding places like logs can be easily sealed off or removed. For other attractants like gardens or the cozy crawl spaces under your house, you may need to take further steps toward warding off opossums and preventing future infestations.
1. Eliminate Entry Points
Since opossums don’t create their own nests, they’re always actively looking for good hiding places where they can rest and keep away from predators. Your attic, basement and crawl spaces all offer perfect spots for this, and it can be a nightmare once an opossum has set up camp so close to your home. Make sure these areas are all properly sealed off and don’t offer any entry points.
- If you have small holes in the siding or foundation of your home, you can seal them easily with expandable foam or concrete mix.
- Inspect your roof for cracks or holes. While you’re up there, place a screen or other barrier on top of fireplaces.
- You can also invest in vent covers to place over your dryer vents and other openings along your outer walls.
- Opossums are great climbers, so make sure that all of the trees on your property are trimmed back away from your home.
- Close off decks and crawl spaces with screen or plywood.
- Schedule outdoor maintenance and inspection at least once a month for yourself or a professional to do.
- If you ever hear scratching noises or any other suspicious sounds around your house, immediately inspect your property yourself or call someone to do so.
- Opossums can “play dead,” so even if you see one in your yard that looks like it might be dead, keep a safe distance and continue to monitor it.
If opossums are eating plants in your garden, you can install a screen or mesh fence along the perimeter or only around the vegetation that the opossums are feeding on. This will also keep out other wildlife like squirrels, voles and chipmunks.
Fencing your entire property is a truly efficient method for keeping opossums away. Privacy fences can work for this purpose since opossums don’t usually dig, but make sure there aren’t any holes or cracks that they can get through. Properly constructed fences will also keep out other animals and will pay off in the long run since you won’t have to invest as much money in pest control.
3. Scare Tactics
One form of keeping opossums away is to make your property less appealing for them to come scavenge for food. Unfortunately, opossums won’t remember that they were previously frightened away from your yard, and they may return if you aren’t using other methods in conjunction with these.
Motion-activated Lights and Sprinklers
Motion-activated tools like outdoor lights and sprinklers aren’t usually huge investments, and they can help keep away a variety of intruders. Any time opossums creep toward your yard, the lights or sprinklers will kick in and startle them, causing them to scurry away.
Sonic repellents can exist in a variety of forms, either requiring you to place them in your ground or setting them up near your house. They’ll emit either a high-frequency noise or sonic vibration that opossums can’t stand, causing them to turn away. These products usually also come with a motion sensor. This method isn’t advisable if you have outdoor pests, since you could scare away your own cat or dog while they’re outside.
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Despite their bad eyesight and slow running, opossums can create an enormous mess in yards. Known for eating almost anything, they get into trash and create a foul smell with their feces and urine.
Because they can transmit a variety of diseases to people and pets, it is important to address any opossum issue promptly.
Fortunately, there are many treatment and prevention methods you can use to get rid of opossums on your property and prevent them from coming back. These methods can be used on your own, or a professional wildlife expert can also use them for you in order to save time and effort.
Signs of opossums on your property will include trash that has been tampered with, scratch marks on garbage cans, droppings, foul odors, and disappearing pet food (if you keep any outside). Once you know you have opossums in your yard, you can use some specific and targeted treatment methods to stop them in their tracks and prevent others from coming onto your property.
1. Remove Attractants
Removing opossums could be pointless if you haven’t taken care of everything that draws them to your yard. Otherwise, the same or different opossums can still make their way onto your property, and you’ll be dealing with the same problem all over again.
- Properly seal and dispose of trash. Never let your outdoor garbage cans overflow. Make sure that they seal properly without any holes or cracks in the lid. If you eat or entertain outside, clean up directly after eating and never leave any trash out in the open.
- Keep pet food inside. If your dog or cat spends most of its time outside, stick to a feeding schedule rather than leaving food outside around the clock. Opossums and many other wild animals will be attracted to the food, and you may even be putting your pet in danger by causing fights over the food.
- Remove yard debris and possible hiding places. Opossums don’t create their own nests. Instead, they take refuge in natural shelters or abandoned nests from other creatures. Logs, brush piles and hollow trees are some of the more popular spots for opossums, so remove these items from your yard. Maintaining consistent outdoor resistance will also keep out a variety of other animals.
A trap is the most effective way to remove opossums from your property. When performed along with prevention and repellent methods, trapping can also be the quickest way to get rid of them.
How To Use a Live Opossum Trap
After you’ve purchased a live trap, be sure to fully read the instructions so you understand how to use it. There are a variety of traps that come in different sizes, but most traps usually work with spring-loaded or one-way doors.
At night, place the trap either near areas where opossums feed (most likely near your trash cans or garden), or near any nesting area you’ve been able to find. You should only leave the traps out at night since opossums are nocturnal and you’ll avoid trapping diurnal animals which you aren’t trying to catch.
Place some bait inside of the trap. Opossums really aren’t picky, but this can be a trial-and-error process to tempt them while also not attracting other animals to the trap. Some ideas for bait include dog or cat food, fish, meat, or fruits.
Camouflage the trap with grasses, leaves and twigs. This will make the trap even more appealing by turning into the type of hollow shelter they like to hide inside.
Keep your outdoor pets away while the trap is in use. Especially if your bait is pet food, it’s best to keep them inside the entire time rather than risk trapping and possibly injuring them.
Check the trap every day. If an opossum dies of dehydration inside the trap, its carcass will attracts other animals and pests and create a host of other pest problems for you.
Check your state’s laws regarding opossum trapping before you take it away to set it free. There may be certain restrictions on where you can release them, or there may even be helpful information from your state regarding the best places to do this.
Place a small ball or toy inside the trap along with the bait. Once inside, the opossum will probably play with it out of boredom and frustration, tiring them out for you to be able to take them away easily.
Once you’ve physically removed the opossum, you can use repellents to help prevent any others from coming onto your property.
- Pet Fur: The smell of cats and dogs could keep opossums away because of their natural instincts to avoid competition and predators. Instead of purposefully keeping your pet outside to ward off opossums, take its hair after each time you brush them and scatter it around the areas where they’ve caused damage around your property. It’s best to use your pet’s fur rather than the actual pet because opossums can be aggressive and potentially harm him or her in a fight.
- Chemical Repellents: Chemical opossum repellents are available in stores and online, usually in spray or granule form. These very pungent products even be as foul-smelling as the opossums’ own odor. Therefore, these are best to use around the perimeter of your property, away from doors and windows where the smell could waft inside.
DIY Treatment Methods
While it isn’t advised to make your own opossum trap or try to create your own scare tactic, there are some helpful natural products you may have around the house. Your own repellents can be just as effective and aren’t dangerous since you won’t likely come in contact with the opossums.
- Ammonia: Cut a medium-sized hole into the lid of a jar or can. Wearing a pair of gloves, pour a small amount of ammonia into this container and drop a rag inside. Once the rag is soaked, pull one end of it up through the hole in the lid and close it tightly. The rag will continue to soak up the ammonia and disperse the smell into the air, repelling potential opossum residents on your property. As with store-bought chemical repellents, this method isn’t safe to use around outdoor pets.
- Spicy Spray: A spicy mixture is the best option to use around your garden if opossums feed on any fruits or vegetables you grow. Mix two parts water, one part dish soap, and one part hot sauce or crushed hot peppers. Add this solution to a spray bottle and spray directly on your plants or in areas where you’ve seen opossums. The pests will avoid both the smell and taste of the mixture.
- Garlic: Garlic acts similarly to hot sauce with its pungent and unique taste. Crush up cloves and scatter them around your yard, or mince them and add water to create a spray. This method can be used on any surface, and is also completely non-toxic for your pets.
Many wildlife removal companies offer guarantees that they’ll continue treatments until the problem is resolved.
DIY methods can be a game of trial and error. A wildlife control expert will target eradication and prevention using tried-and-true practices and top-of-the-line products. This could even save you money since the professional will likely solve the problem with one strategy versus you buying a multitude of products on your own to figure out what works. Furthermore, many wildlife removal companies offer guarantees that they’ll continue treatments until the problem is resolved.
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