Opossums are rather odd-looking animals that are sometimes described as looking like they were assembled from "God's spare parts." They're medium-sized mammals, usually predominantly white or gray in color, with canine-like jaws, rat-like prehensile tails, and hands and feet whose tracks somewhat resemble those of a miniature human. They also have opposable "thumbs" on their hind feet, and females have pouches in which they rear their young. The opossum is the only marsupial native to North America.
In nature, possums preferentially live in trees; but they're also comfortable living on ground level -- including in our homes, garages, sheds, and other buildings. They're also happy eating our food (or our pets' food), and often rummage through human garbage looking for leftovers. They'll eat pretty much anything, both in nature and in human-occupied areas.
In fact, the opossum's whole lifestyle seems to be built around adaptability. They have few set habits and even fewer demands. They are flexible in their approach to life and live without complaints in a wide variety of settings.
Probably the most well-known bit of information about possums is their peculiar habit of "playing dead" when confronted or attacked. It's not clear, however, whether this behavior is voluntary, or something beyond the possum's control. It seems to be an involuntary reaction, something like fainting.
We do know that playing dead is something that opossums do after more typical methods of intimidating the threat -- growling, snarling, snapping, screeching, and so forth -- have failed. When playing dead, opossum's faces look frozen in a snarl, and they secrete a foul-smelling fluid from their anal glands, presumably to discourage predators from eating them.
Another interesting thing about opossums is that although they have extraordinarily strong immune systems and are resistant to most diseases, they also have very short life spans. This isn't just because of their habit of walking across roads and getting run over by cars. They just age very quickly.
In nature, opossums are somewhat beneficial because they do consume their share of rodents. But because they're omnivorous, they can be a nuisance in gardens and on farms, where they sometimes eat the crops. In homes, they're a nuisance mainly because they make a mess and scare people. And although they rarely attack, it does happen sometimes when they're cornered.
Like other wild animals, opossums also harbor their fair share of parasites such as fleas and ticks, some of which can transmit diseases to humans and pets. Their droppings can also harbor bacterial and fungal pathogens that can become airborne, and some of which can cause human illnesses.
One place you definitely don't want opossums is around a stable. Possums are known to be involved in the transmission of Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM), a serious disease affecting horses and other equines.
Another possible health threat worth mentioning is that opossums have remarkably strong immune systems and are largely resistant to many common diseases, including rabies. But that doesn't mean that they can't transmit it. The results of several studies suggest at least the possibility that opossums infected with rabies can continue to live for normal life spans, during which they could at least theoretically infect humans or other animals.
Like most of the wildlife control that we do, opossum control typically consists of removing the opossum, and then doing whatever work is necessary to keep them out. Opossum exclusion will also keep many other animals, such as raccoons and skunks, out of a home.
Sometimes, however, all we need to do is remove the animal, either by trapping or by hand. This is the case when, for example, an opossum gets into a garage or basement because the door is left open. In that case, the obvious solution (once we remove the opossums) is to keep the door closed when not in use.
Please contact us if you have a problem with opossums, or any other nuisance wildlife. We hope to hear from you soon.
Here are a few pictures of possum removal work we've done. Hopefully we'll have more soon.
Opossums are found throughout Georgia
Tim with a young opossum removed from a home
Opossum removed from a house in Atlanta
Opossum waiting to be humanely relocated
Young opossum removed from a home
Opossum damage to exterior of a Conyers home
Possum and raccoon trapped in Sandy Springs
Three young opossums awaiting relocation
Angry opossum awaiting relocation
Opossum removal job in Mableton, Georgia
Baby opossums found at a possum-removal job
Baby opossums removed from an Atlanta home
Baby possum removed from an Atlanta home
Possum removed from a house in Atlanta
Infrared photo of an opossum in Stone Mountain