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All About Opossums in the Yard and Garden

I saw an opossum in my garden. What can you tell me about opossums?


Answer: Opossums are nocturnal and are about the size of a cat, with grayish, coarse fur, a usually white face with black eyes and ears and an elongated snout. These night-loving mammals, with their long, thin tail and overall appearance, are often compared to an oversized rat. However they are not part of the rodent family, but marsupials, like kangaroos, carrying their young in an abdominal pouch. They are true omnivores, feasting on fruits, nuts, plants, insects and small animals such as mice and rats.

Although they may look frightening, they generally freeze or run away rather than attack an approaching human or pet. They will, however, hiss and bare an abundance of pointy teeth if cornered and feeling threatened. The good news is, opossums rarely carry rabies, and they are way more scared of us than we should be of them.

Even though opossums sometimes can act as our own personal insecticide, eating away at the irksome bugs that lurk throughout our yards, they can also cause damage to our gardens and homes. For example, because they love fruits, veggies and plants, they will often enjoy our gardens, munching away at edibles and green plants while making a home in compost piles, shrubbery, garden sheds and even inside our homes! With this being said, they are pretty easy to control or discourage. Here are some common and successful ways to get rid of opossums:

•  Get rid of nesting/hiding places: The first step is to transform their newfound home into a place that no longer appeals to them. Trim overgrown shrubbery, cut overly long branches and clean up any dead vegetation that may be around your yard, to reduce their cozy, cover-up hiding places. Make sure your garden shed and your house are secure with no holes or openings that opossums or other animals may find.

 Cut off food sources: Since they love fruit, especially when it is at ground level, make sure to regularly pick up any fruit that may fall to the ground from fruit trees. Secure trashcan lids. If you have pets, make sure no food bowls are left outside. Opossums also eat birdseed; if you have bird feeders, either remove them for a few weeks—until the opossums hopefully move on—or get a birdfeeder that has a seed-catcher, so no loose food falls to the ground. If you have a compost pile, secure/cover it, or at least bury any large pieces of food that you add to it.

Protect your plants: If your plants are being damaged, you can set up wire mesh/fences/caging, etc. You can also try “home remedies” that many people have found success with. One method is by appealing to the marsupials’ keen sense of smell. Try taking empty coffee containers and poking holes in them. Then add rags/towels that have been dipped in ammonia into the coffee container and secure the lid. You can use as many of these as you want around desired areas in your yard. Opossums’ elongated snouts will not take to kindly to the strong odor, and they will move away. Other people have used chili powder sprinkled around the yard or humanely trapped the animals and released them elsewhere. (If you trap them, make sure you follow local guidelines.)
These are just a few ways to rid your yard of vexing opossums that are not only humane, but also effective. Good luck!

Image: public domain
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