What Lives Under My Shed? Opossum or Skunk?

If there were two animals that you would not want living under your shed, opossums or skunks would probably be them. They both stink, both for different reasons, and they’re both rather difficult to get rid of once they’ve moved in. They’re also both common pests across most of North America, and wreak havoc as they go.

But which one do you have living under your shed?

There are a number of ways in which you can work out which one lives under your shed, but there are two things that are probably going to ring true for either animal:

1 – It’s a mother with youngsters, particularly in spring/summer.

2 – It’s not going to be very happy about you trying to disturb it.

Smell: Opossum or Skunk?

If you’ve ever smelled a skunk spray, you’ll know how bad it smells and how long that smell lingers for. Skunk spray is much stronger than the odor left behind by an opossum, but opossums tend to do just that — leave the scent behind. Skunks spray it in one area, usually directing the jet at a predator.

An opossum gives off a scent as a defense mechanism, too, but it’s not quite in such dramatic fashion as the stuff that comes from a skunk’s anal glands. (Not a nice though, we know.) The opossum plays dead when it feels like it might be under attack, and that scent is a natural reflex performed by the body. Being totally lifeless and a deadweight, plus smelling like a dead animal, will make any predatory/attacking animal believe that it has already won the battle — that the opossum is already dead. The attacking animal then drops the opossum for a moment, looking around to check that nothing else is coming along to steal its meal or something similar, and the opossums springs back to life, as if by magic, and scampers off to live another day.

That’s the hope for the opossum, anyway.

There is a chance that you might not encounter either smell, especially if the opossum has had no need to play dead and the skunk no need to spray. Most wild animals come with a musty, “wild-animal-like” smell, however.

Digging: Opossum or Skunk?

A skunk will actively dig up your lawn to try and find grubs and insects hiding under the top layer. Opossums aren’t quite that proactive. They don’t really dig for food, instead preferring to just come by it (giving them the name “opportunistic feeders”), and they don’t’ even dig their own homes; they steal them from other animals. They will happily move into a nest or burrow that has been abandoned and have no issues with sneaking into residential or commercial buildings, too.

If you DO find holes dug-up in your lawn or garden, it is likely to be a skunk, mole, raccoon, or other digging animal that lives under your shed. It’s probably not going to be an opossum.

Habitat: Opossum or Skunk?

Both the opossums and the skunk like a similar habitat — lots of leafy ground cover to offer hiding places and protection, a source of water close by, the more rural the setting feels, the better. Skunks will spend a little more time on the ground than the opossum, who likes to spend time in trees and even gain access to homes and other buildings using higher branches. Skunks CAN still be found in attics, however, and will also climb if it means finding a good home or source of food.

There are a number of ways in which you can find out whether or not you have an opossum or skunk under your shed or elsewhere on your property, including keeping your eyes peeled for tracks, taking a closer look at what food is being eaten, and even watching out for the animal once the sun goes down. Both animals are well-known for their nocturnal activity.

Poop: Opossum or Skunk?

Both animals leave very similar waste material, and they both look a bit like dog or cat poop. Do not be so quick to blame and berate your pampered pooch for messes left in the back yard; they could very easily have been left by a passing wild interloper.

Skunk poop will usually have much more undigested food in it, and opossum poop is curlier than the more tapered and tubular skunk waste.

We do not recommend getting close to any waste material left behind by wild critters, unless you are adequately protected to do so.