Opossums are now a very common pest across certain places in the United States, including the west coast, alongside central and southern spots. In fact, you can find them pretty much everywhere across America now, with the exception of really, really northern chunks of Midwest USA, and also certain parts of the Rockies.
We think of them as pests, but they’re actually handy animals to have around … Just not in your backyard.
Q: Why do opossums exist?
Opossums are scavengers and, just like other scavengers, their “job” in nature is to clean up after all the other animals. Scavengers will eat the bits that other animals won’t, such as shreds of rotting flesh left on bones, fruit and vegetables that have gone bad, animals that have died as a result of passing vehicles, etc. There’s not much they won’t eat.
If opossums didn’t exist, there would be an abundance of other critters, many of which you would want in your home even less — spiders, slugs, rats and mice, small snakes, larger beetles and insects, etc.
Q: What’s the difference between an opossum and a possum?
Besides the “O”…
They’re also very different animals.
The word that you’re probably looking for is “opossum”. It is the Virginia Opossum that you are likely to encounter in your backyard, also and technically known as Didelphis virginiana.
There is an animal called a “possum” but it is found in Australia, not in the Americas, and it’s also a very different animal. The two look different and are different in many ways.
When we refer to an opossum as just a “possum” in the USA, we should really add an apostrophe, like this: ‘possum. We are omitting the o in a familiar, slang way.
Q: Are opossums blind?
No, opossums are NOT blind. They don’t have the best sense of sight, but it’s not that bad. They are nocturnal animals so don’t need to rely on their sense of sight like we do — active during the day.
Q: Are opossums deaf?
No, opossums are NOT deaf. Again, they don’t have the best sense of hearing, but they can still hear. They rely on their sense of smell to work things out during the night, although using sense, sight, and smell together can help to keep them safe.
Q: Do all daytime-active opossums have rabies?
No, and it’s a commonly recognized fact that opossums do not carry the rabies virus. They have an internal body temperature that is too low for the virus to survive, making the animal not only incapable of carrying and suffering with the disease, but also transmitting it to other animals and people.
Opossums are mostly nocturnal animals, but they will come out during the day when they need to. If they have been woken up by a human or a predatory animal, they will wake up during the day to move. They will also wake up to feed during the day as food is very hard to come by and the hunger prevents them from sleeping well.
Q: Will opossums steal fish from my pond?
There is a chance that an opossum could be the culprit if fish have started to disappear from your backyard fish pond, but there’s a higher chance it’s another animal creating the nuisance. Opossums are actually really lazy animals — fishing for food in a pond is a little high-maintenance for them. They much prefer to find food — dead animals that have been left by other predators, for example.
Q: Do opossums dig holes in the backyard?
Opossums have been blamed for this for many years, but just like the fish pond situation, opossums are not likely to have caused holes in the back garden. Going back to the being really lazy point we made, opossums STEAL burrows and dens from other animals, or move into abandoned spots. They will only create their own den/burrow/nest if it is absolutely necessary, and this isn’t often. If they are already in your back yard, there are plenty of other places to set up home than spending ages digging a hole.