Imagine this: You and your spouse are enjoying a quiet night on your back patio. It’s quiet and peaceful — until you hear a crash coming from the side of your home. As you get up to see what fell, you see a large rodent with a thin, rat-like tail scurry away towards a tree in your neighbor’s yard. Though it can be hard to tell in the dark, that creature snacking on your garbage was an opossum.
Out of all the wildlife you probably see in your backyard, opossums are probably the most misunderstood of the bunch. They’re not exactly cute like a rabbit or a squirrel, and they don’t sing like the birds visiting your feeders. In fact, lots of people fear opossums for their beady black eyes and sharp teeth. Many believe that opossums carry rabies.
In short, opossums have gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to wildlife in Houston, and in many ways, they’ve been misunderstood. Opossums are clever. Tests have shown that opossums are able to remember where food is better than cats, dogs, rabbits and rats.
While we at Natran have a lot of love for the opossum, that doesn’t mean an opossum in your attic will be a helpful houseguest. When an opossum moves in, it can cause damage to your attic or garage and might make things worse if it has its babies in your home. You will likely find a lot of trash strewn around your home when you have an opossum constantly trying to find food in your garbage cans.
Natran believes in catching and releasing opossums as a way of green pest control, but part of integrated pest management — the approach to pest control that combines science and a little common sense — means making your home as inhospitable to opossums as possible. It means learning a little bit about opossums in order to convince opossums to move in anywhere but your home.
If your tash cans are overturned almost every morning, then there’s a good chance that a possum has moved in. Here’s what you need to know about these clever creatures, the damage they can do to your home and how to convince them to set up a house in someone else’s home.
Facts and myths about opossums
Opossums are a quirky creature, and they’re quiet clever. If you thought raccoons were crafty, then you haven’t seen anything yet. They’re nocturnal animals, so you won’t see one sniffing around in the middle of the day. But there are a lot of myths surrounding opossums, and it’s important to know that opossums are probably less dangerous than most other wildlife.
For one thing, opossums do not carry rabies, and they cannot get infected. The reason for this is that their immune systems are strong, and their body temperature stays low, making their bodies inhospitable for rabies. In fact, they’re eight times less likely to become infected than most other animals running around your backyard.
Opossums aren’t picky about where they make their homes. Their only criteria is that the home is dry and safe from predators. That’s why you’ll find opossum nests just about anywhere in or around your home — under bushes, in hollowed logs, up a tree, under a deck and, yes, even in an attic. Opossums are excellent climbers, and if you have tree branches hanging over your home, they can easily get from a tree to your attic without much hassle.
To a hungry opossum, just about anything looks like a meal. Opossums are known for eating:
- Snakes, insects, slugs, mice, fish, rats, crayfish and snails
- Fruits and eggs
- Bird seed and pet food
All things considered, there’s very little that an opossum won’t eat. Because of their strong immune systems, opossums can eat poisonous snakes such as cottonmouths and rattlesnakes. Their mouths have over 50 teeth, so they’re able to tear apart their food.
If you’ve ever see an opossum “play dead” in your backyard, you probably thought the opossum felt threatened by your presence. In a way, that’s true, but the ability to play dead is more of a seizure than a voluntary response that opossums can control. When this happens, the opossum will roll over, stiffen and close its eyes. It will begin to foam at the mouth, and its glands will secrete an unpleasant odor.
If you see an opossum playing dead, it’s better to just leave it alone. The seizure can last for several minutes or even a few hours. While an opossum won’t spray you like a skunk if you approach it, it’s better to let the opossum recover than attempt to handle it.
Opossums mate all year round unlike other wildlife, and they can have up to 25 babies at a time. Opossums are marsupials, which means the mother carries her babies in a pouch on the underside of her belly to keep them warm and fed. These babies are called Joeys. When they’re small, Joeys live inside their mother’s pouch, but when they get older, you might see them riding on their mother’s back.
Once an opossum reaches a certain age, the mother will stop coming back for it. Some babies might not be quite ready to strike out on their own, so if you find a baby opossum, contact Natran for catch and release or call a wildlife rescue group. Do not try to take it in as a pet.
Overall, you don’t have to be afraid of opossums. They’re not going to try to hurt or bother you and will only start growling or hissing when they feel threatened. If you do try to attack them, they will show their teeth and start to growl and hiss. In Houston, however, opossums are used to having humans around them, so for the most part, they’ll leave you alone if you do the same.
Damage done by opossums
The good news is that opossums are solitary creatures. If one moves into your backyard, it will probably be alone, unless it has babies. Even then, the babies will stay in their mother’s pouch or on her back and leave their mother within a few months. The bad news is that just one opossum can do a lot of damage to your Houston home.
A hungry opossum will do just about anything for food, and if it likes your garden, it can destroy your garden by digging up worms and grubs. In some ways, that’s not a completely bad thing. Opossums also eat rats and mice, which can be considered green pest control and help prevent an infestation in your home, but all that digging can really do a number on your garden and your lawn.
Most people in Houston find opossums living in their attics, and the damage done there may require a serious renovations. Once an opossum moves in, it will start building a nest, bringing in trash and debris from your trash cans and yard. They might hunt any rats, mice or insects living in your attic, but more often than not, opossums find their way down into your home to look for other food sources in your kitchen.
The opossum living in your attic won’t be going back outside to do it’s business. You can usually spot an infestation in your attic by the smell alone. Here are a few other easy ways to tell if an opossum has moved in:
- Scratching and thumping noises: Opossums won’t be content to stay in your attic. They will make their way through your walls and try to find the best way to infiltrate the rest of your home. If you hear odd thumping behind your walls, it could be an opossum.
- Feces and urine: You’ll notice droppings in your attic right away. Opossum feces are about the size of a cat or small dog’s. If you know your pet hasn’t been anywhere near an attic, it might be an opossum.
- Missing pet food or trash messes: Once opossums gain access to your home, they’ll head straight for your garbage cans, stopping along the way to check out your pet’s food. Before you blame your own pet for knocking over a trash can, consider that it could be an opossum hanging out in your attic.
- Leaves and organic matter: Opossums build their nests in your attic out of leaves and other organic matter such as sticks and twigs from trees in your backyard. You might notice these leaves and twigs finding their way into other parts of your home.
There is one other telltale sign you might run into if an opossum moves into your Houston home, and that’s if you suddenly find fleas and parasites infiltrating your home. While opossums won’t carry rabies, they can still carry fleas, mites and parasites. In extreme cases, they might even have tuberculosis and other more serious diseases.
This is another good reason to never think of an opossum like a pet. While they may be ugly-cute, opossums are not like cats and dogs, and they can’t be tamed. If you find an opossum living in your Houston attic, it’s time to call in an expert to trap and release it.
How to prevent opossums from moving in
Though they’re certainly not the cutest animal to ever wander through your door, opossums are very smart, which means you have to be equally as smart to keep them out of your home or garage. A little prevention will go a long way to keeping opossums outside where they belong.
Outside, keep your garbage cans covered and away from any entrances to your home. Opossums will take any opportunity to get into your trash cans and start looking for food. Always put the lid on your trash when you take out the trash at night. Keep your cans behind your garage or slightly away from your home so opossums don’t start trying to come into your home.
Your dog probably loves the freedom of wandering in and out of your home through a doggy door, but that door can also let in opossums. If you have a doggy door on your back door, make sure you block it at night just before you go to bed. Opossums are nocturnal creatures, so they probably won’t wander in during the day, but they may try to sneak in at night, especially if they see your dog using the door. The last thing you want is to share the breakfast table in the morning with an opossum.
In your attic, you should be looking for holes where opossums can get in. Opossums are pretty good about getting into small holes, so go through your attic and seal up every hole you find. Outside, you should also trim trees with branches hanging over your home. These branches are makeshift bridges to opossums, so keep them trimmed to make it harder for opossums to get into your home.
Catching and releasing opossums in Houston
Despite all the damage they could do, there’s no reason to really kill an opossum. They don’t really want to bother you, and if you make it hard to get into your house, opossums will probably look for a home elsewhere. But if an opossum does move in or start destroying your yard, then it’s time to call a Houston green pest control expert to catch and release your opossum.
At Natran, we take a no-kill policy to all live animal captures. Our experts have plenty of experience catching not only opossums but also raccoons, squirrels and chipmunks. Most of these animals can be caught using bait and a trap. When they’re caught in these traps, the animals are no longer a threat, and our experts will release it in a good environment away from your home.
Opossums shouldn’t be fears when you see them in your backyard, but you don’t necessarily want one moving in. Share with us: Have you had a problem with opossums in your backyard? Tell us more down in the comments!