Getting Rid of Nuisance Opossum
Opossums are generally beneficial, non-threatening animals. In their quest for food and shelter, they often come into conflict with humans. An animal is considered a “nuisance” when they exhibit behavior that:
- Causes (or about to cause) property damage
- Presents a threat to public safety, or
- Causes an annoyance within, under or upon a building.
The definition of a nuisance animal leaves some ambiguity. What one person deems an “annoyance” another may be perfectly comfortable with. The most common issues with opossum are getting into trash cans, taking shelter inside your home’s attic, and eating your garden. When a wild animal takes up residence in your home, for the sake of your own family, it is time to take action to remove that animal.
The Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) is North America’s only marsupial. When baby opossum are born, they are about the size of a jelly bean. Each litter contains between 6-9 babies. Immediately after birth, the mother opossum places them in her pouch. Approximately half of baby opossum die during this immediate transfer. The babies that survive continue to develop in the mother’s pouch for approximately 8 more weeks. A mother opossum produces between 2 and 3 litters each year.
The Virginia Opossum range in size from 21” to 36” long. The appearance of their rat like tails do not help their image, but they use their tails in fascinating ways. Opossums have a prehensile tail, a tail which allows it to grasp and hold objects. When climbing, opossum use their tail as a 5th appendage helping to balance their body. Sometimes they use their tail to carry twigs and leaves to build their nests. Opossum don’t really hang upside down with their tail from a tree branch, although that myth makes for a delightful scene in a famous children’s movie. However, they do wrap their tails around a tree branch to secure themselves to their perch. Opossums are also one of the few animals that boasts opposable thumbs, albeit they are on their hind feet. Opossum have shown themselves to be highly intelligent creatures, especially when tested on their ability to remember where food is. Once they have identified your trash can as a source of food, they are likely to remember where it is, and thanks to the opposable thumbs be able to open the lid and have a meal.
A common misconception is that opossum and possum are the same animal and can be used interchangeably. Both opossum and possum are marsupials, but they are different animal species. The opossum, that we are speaking of, is found in North America. Possums are found in Australia and are more closely related to the most popular marsupial, the kangaroo. Further complicating the opossum issue, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary recognizes that in colloquial language we often treat the beginning “O” in opossum as a silent letter, like H in honest. However, it is correct to either pronounce the O in opossum or to not pronounce the O in opossum. Of course, if you do not pronounce the O in opossum you are technically saying the name of a different animal. Either way you pronounce opossum, here at Nextgen Solutions, when you call us to remove opossums, we will know exactly what you are talking about, and get right on handling your problem!
Opossums are one of the more misunderstood “nuisance” animals. Opossums are frequently perceived as rat-like vermin, but they provide humans many unique benefits. Ticks that carry Lyme’s Disease are found on most other forest creatures, but not opossum. As an opossum wanders through the woods, they groom themselves and not only remove ticks from their bodies, they kill the ticks in the process. It is believed that one opossum kills 5,000 ticks per year.
Opossum also kill and eat cockroaches, rats, and mice. Although, they will take some fruit for their efforts, opossum eat snails and slugs from a backyard garden.
Perhaps one of the most amazing opossum characteristics is his near immunity to snake venom. Opossums will kill and eat venomous snakes including rattlesnakes and copperheads. Scientists are working on anti-venom therapies developed from opossum proteins. It is believed these anti-venom therapies would be inexpensive to produce and would save thousands of lives in medically underserved areas of the world.
Despite these non-threatening and beneficial characteristics, opossum should not be permitted to reside in your attic or regularly partake of your trashcan contents. Opossum can responsibly and humanely be removed from your home and prevented from nesting in your attic again.
Opossum in your House
Opossum usually enter your home seeking shelter and a safe warm place to give birth. As baby opossum grow, they transition from being carried in the mama’s pouch to riding on her back. Eventually, they drop off and begin to wander around themselves. At this stage, if they are in your attic, they are likely to fall off a rafter and down a wall or other void in the attic. Opossum at this young stage are rarely able to climb back up the wall to the safety of the nest. You may hear frantic chirping calls and if they are not rescued, they will die in your attic.
Other signs that opossum may have invaded your home include scratching and scampering sounds as the nest is being built. Outdoors, opossum may nest in a pile of leaves, or an abandoned fox nest or den. In your attic she will likely rearrange the attic insulation, so that it comfortably cradles her babies. She may carry some twigs and leaves up to the attic as well. Opossums are not as obnoxiously loud and clumsy as racoons, so it is more difficult to hear them. If you listen closely when the house is silent, you may hear chirping, hissing, screeching, squealing, or twittering. This is the mother opossum communicating with her babies.
Opossums tend to take advantage of an already large entry hole rather than create one of their own, but sometimes you may notice damage to the exterior of your home such as ripped soffits or damaged eaves. If you suspect opossum, or any wildlife, is nesting in your attic, call a professional wildlife trapper for a thorough inspection, removal, and clean up job.
Damage and Danger Caused by Opossum
As we know, opossums are agile climbers, and seek a shelter to nest with their young. If attic spaces are easily accessible, they will freely make their way inside. When opossum nest in the attic, they do not keep to the perimeter and only travel along hard edges like many rodents. Opossums will use the entire attic. That means the odor and damage is spread out over a large area. Opossums in the attic should be removed from the attic immediately.
Opossum Feces and Odor
Opossums leave a lot of droppings around their nesting area. They eat a large variety of foods, and they leave the excrement all over your attic. Opossum droppings are fairly large, similar size to those of a small/medium dog. They are usually 1-3 inches in length, approximately 3/4 inch in diameter, and usually pointed on both ends. Fresh opossum droppings are brown, but if they have been there a while, they may be covered in a whitish, yellow mold growth. Opossum poop tends to have a curl to the shape and the sides are usually pretty smooth.
The sheer quantity of opossum droppings in an attic can be astounding. The droppings and urine can soak into the insulation and wood in the attic creating foul odors. The opossum droppings are often scattered throughout the attic making clean up and sanitization laborious and time consuming.
Of the critters that enter your home, opossums are more likely to die inside your home. Baby opossums are carried for a time inside the pouch, then they transition to riding on the mother’s back. As they begin to extend their reach, they begin to wander around your attic. If a baby falls down a wall and can not be recovered or crawl out, he will die behind your wall. Even the odor of a small opossum will make you want to tear the drywall off the wall to get that opossum carcass out! Opossums have a short lifespan, only a few years. If not removed, adult opossums can simply die a natural death in the safety of your attic. The odor emitting from decomposing opossums will drive you to resolve the nuisance wildlife problem and seal your home to prevent it from happening in the future.
Opossum Damage to the Attic
Opossums are marsupials not rodents; they do not have the same need to constantly gnaw that rodents (rats, mice, and squirrels) do. However, if they are sealed inside an attic, they will attempt gnaw and tear the interior of your attic to create an exit. They have also been credited with tearing apart HVAC ductwork as they traverse your attic. While opossums don’t seek out materials to chew or gnaw, they may disturb and damage electrical wires in your attic.
After a long-standing opossum visitor is removed, a careful inspection of the nesting space should be performed. The most widespread issue is the need to remove and replace damaged insulation due to fecal matter and opossum urine. If an opossum dies in the attic, the area that he decomposed will need to be cleaned and disinfected.
Diseases Carried by Opossums
Just like humans and other wild animals, opossums are carriers of certain dangerous diseases. Opossums are, for the most part, docile creatures. They would prefer to “play dead” than attack. However, they do have a territorial streak; caution should always be utilized when dealing with a wild animal. When frightened, opossums hiss and show a mouthful of teeth, and excrete a foul-smelling substance. Despite this behavior, the opossum that hisses at you is probably not infected with rabies. Opossums are nearly immune from rabies. They have one of the lowest body temperatures of all mammals, between 94-97℉. It is extremely rare for an opossum to have rabies. It is suspected the rabies virus can not incubate and replicate in the “cold” temperature of the opossum’s body.
The most common disease spread by opossums is leptospirosis. Leptospirosis starts with flu-like symptoms, but may escalate to kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, and respiratory distress if not treated. Leptospirosis is spread by contact with opossum feces or urine. It is most commonly contracted through unguarded contact with soil or water that is contaminated with fecal matter or urine. Of course, cleaning up opossum fecal droppings from a recently infested attic presents a risk of contracting leptospirosis. Always take precautions and use proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when handling any wildlife fecal matter. Or consider hiring a professional like Nextgen Pest Solutions to remove the opossum and clean up after her.
How to Get Opossum Out of your Home
After a thorough inspection, if you have verified an opossum is sheltering in your attic, you must take action. The opossum is most likely a Jill, a female opossum, who is either getting ready to or has already given birth. Opossums are nocturnal, the mother will leave the nest every evening to scavenge for food. Opossums are unique in that they carry their young in their pouch for approximately 2 months after they are born. Between 2 – 4 months of age they ride on their mother’s back, still completely dependent upon her for finding food and shelter. If you trap an opossum in early spring, her offspring will likely either be in her pouch or attached to her back. If you trap an opossum in late spring (May), her offspring may still be dependent upon her and using her nest, but not attached to her back. During this time period, additional inspections will need to be conducted to ensure you don’t seal a juvenile opossum in your attic. If you suspect juvenile opossums are still in the attic, remove them before sealing the attic.
Opossums are not considered difficult critters to trap. Because they are scavengers, they are comfortable exploring new items in their environment, ie a trap, and can not resist the strong odor of a can of cat food or tuna fish. There are several styles of traps available, but a large steel live trap is best for the live trapping of opossum. The trap should be placed in areas where you know the opossum frequents. Don’t place the trap in the sun where the animal may suffer, and do not place the trap where it is unsteady and may fall. If you place the trap outside your attic, you may need to alter the bait choices to avoid capturing neighborhood dogs and cats. Opossums are not picky eaters, even a piece of bread or a marshmallow will lure them into the cage. Remember, if you trap an opossum, you must have a plan with what to do with it. Most local laws and regulations prohibit the relocation of nuisance animals; therefore, if the law requires it, you must be prepared to euthanize the opossum in a humane manner.
In certain situations, one-way trap doors can be an alternative to trapping opossums. Properly installed, these devices allow the opossum to leave the nest to scavenge for food, but she can not get back in. This is possible with opossums because she more than likely left the nest with her babies either in her pouch or attached to her back. If you use this technique on other nuisance wildlife, they will wreak havoc on your house to get back inside to their babies!
Attic Clean-Up After Opossum
After the opossum in your attic has been removed, the clean-up process must begin. Opossums excrete more fecal matter than many of the common nuisance wildlife. They do not use a single latrine area in the attic, rather their fecal matter is usually spread out over a large area. The only way to remove this contaminant is by hand. Opossum fecal matter carries a risk of Salmonella and Leptospirosis. When removing any droppings from your attic, always wear proper PPE including a respirator and gloves. Double bag any fecal matter that you remove from your attic. Any urine or feces soiled insulation should also be removed and replaced. The area should be disinfected and sanitized with bleach.
Most companies that offer nuisance wildlife control services, offer attic clean-up and restoration services as well. It is certainly a dirty job to clean up after wildlife. Professional servicers, such as Nextgen Pest Solutions, also have specialized equipment that can easily fog your entire attic with a disinfectant and enzyme-based deodorizers. This service ensures a thorough clean and a fresh odor.
Nuisance Opossums Outdoors
Most of the nuisance wildlife calls we deal with are issues of animals inside your business or home. While opossum certainly can and do enter the shelter of a residence, they can prove themselves to be quite the nuisance outdoors as well. As discussed earlier, opossum are scavengers. They are not picky eaters, and if given the opportunity they will visit your trash can or your garden for a nightly snack. Opossums are shy by nature and they do not tend to stay in one place too long. However, if you are providing a reliable food source, they may get quite comfortable.
Preventing Opossums in the Garbage
If given the opportunity, opossums will knock over your trash can and tear apart the contents of your trash can. If a trash can lid is left partially open or damaged, you are essentially inviting them to the buffet. To prevent opossums from wreaking havoc with your garbage and other parts of your yard, you may need to alter the environment to make it less appealing to them. This likely involves simple changes designed to encourage opossums to “move on” as they scavenge for food.
- Tightly secure the lids on garbage cans. This may include weighing the lid down with a cinder block, and/or tying the lid down with a bungee cord or strap.
- If feasible, leave the garbage can in a shed or garage until the morning of garbage collection.
- Place garbage cans on a flat surface so they cannot be knocked over.
- If permitted by your garbage collector, consider switching to a metal trash can. Heavy metal trash cans are less like to be tipped over and opened.
- Double bag your trash to lessen the enticing odors that escape.
- Remove other food sources from the area. Clean up any fallen fruit, bring pet food inside, remove bird feeders, and cover or secure a compost pile if you have one.
Often opossums work in tandem with other night-time feeders. It is actually much more likely that a racoon is the culprit in breaking into your trash can than an opossum. However, once the mess is made, the opossum out on his nightly scavenging mission will certainly partake in the feast.
It is not uncommon to find an opossum inside your trash can. Sometimes they find a way in but can not get out. If this happens, simply place the can on its side to allow the opossum to get out on its own. Then, take steps to secure the trash can. Most opossums move on to new feeding grounds rather quickly.
Opossums in the Garden
There are opposing views on whether you should leave an opossum to scavenge in your garden. Many love labor hours have been invested in your garden, and the prospect of it being destroyed by a scavenging opossum is horrifying. On the other hand, opossums are beneficial in that they eat garden pests, slugs, rodents, ticks, cockroaches, toads, even snakes. While they will eat tender young shoots of plants, they prefer organic matter that is beginning to rot. They will be more attracted to your garden if you allow tomatoes to rot on the vines. This also means if you have a compost pile, opossums will be attracted to the compost pile. It is very difficult to fully secure or opossum proof an open-air compost pile. Knowing that in most states, trapped opossums can not be relocated, they must be humanely euthanized. What to do about opossums in your garden is a personal choice. You should weigh the damage this particular animal is doing to your garden vs the benefits he brings to your yard, and the inherent value of his life.
Before trapping an opossum that has found your garden, consider a few practices that may protect your young plants and the opossum:
- Place bird netting over and around the young opossum susceptible plants at night.
- Blood and bone fertilizers have an odor that opossums do not like. By sprinkling these fertilizers around the garden, you may deter the opossum from taking a bite.
- There are a few commercially available opossum deterrents, but people have come up with many home made deterrents as well. Ammonia soaked rags can be placed in a coffee can and holes punctured in the top. Place these cans around the garden or near young plants. Opossums may avoid your garden to avoid smelling the ammonia. Sprays of garlic, hot chilis, fish sauce, the smoky smelling Lapsang Souchong tea, or detergent and mustard, are believed to deter and prevent opossums from taking bites from your garden’s bounty. Make sure to thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables that come from your garden.
- If all else fails, enclosing your garden with an opossum proof fence may be necessary. Depending on the fencing material chosen and the size of your garden, this may be a large investment. One popular opossum proof fencing option involves fencing the perimeter of the garden. Then up high, create a curved archway that faces the outside of the garden. When opossums climb the fence, the curved archway becomes unstable and unsteady; most opossums will turn around and go back down the fence leaving your garden safe. A tight privacy fence will also suffice for keeping opossums from enjoying the fruits of your labor.
If any of these tactics prevent opossums from having a meal from your yard or garden, they are highly likely to move on and search elsewhere for an easy meal.
Preventing Opossum from Entering your Home Again
After you remove opossums from your attic and clean up the mess they left behind, turn your attention to preventing opossums from ever entering your home again! The process of pest exclusion is an import concept in Integrated Pest Management. It is to opossum’s benefit to keep them where they belong… outside. Most professional companies that offer wildlife removal services, also offer clean up and exclusion services. Because they already know the landscape of your attic, and the pathways used by the critters they captured, using the same company will often save you money and time.
Mice and rats can squeeze themselves into very small holes, opossums, which are about the size of a house cat, need a hole about 3” in diameter. In the world of pest exclusion, that is a rather large hole. When deciding on the details of your exclusion, you must decide how far you want to take the exclusion process. Should you work to exclude the tiny House Mouse or just larger animals like racoons and opossums? What materials should you use? Different and specialized materials are needed for the various holes and vents around your home. Thoroughly sealing up all possible entry holes from critters large and small is a labor and skill intensive task, but a high-quality professional sealing job will prevent pests of all sizes and shapes. It is a good investment in your home. A Pest Management Professional who knows the various behavioral habits of the nuisance wildlife you are likely to battle is a valuable resource in the exclusion battle.
Nextgen Pest Solutions Opossum Removal
While we appreciate opossums for their remarkable abilities, we have seen first-hand the damage a mother opossum can inflict in your attic. Nextgen Pest Solutions is a Veteran-Owned company that employs others that have a service first attitude. When you call with an opossum issue, a trained and experienced wildlife technician will head your way as quickly as possible, often the same day. The quick and humane removal of the opossum will be our immediate goal, followed by attic restoration and exclusion. With branches in Florida and Georgia, call Nextgen Pest Solutions today to get rid of the opossum in your attic.