Opossums. Some folks love them and some hate them, but should you really allow them to hang around your homestead? As it turns out, these oft-derided marsupials have some great benefits, alongside a few drawbacks. Read on for some facts about the common North American opossum, otherwise known as the Virginia opossum.
Natural Scavengers and Stealthy Hunters
Opossums are natural scavengers, a tendency which has caused them to run afoul of humans for years by raiding their garbage. If you leave you garbage inside, however, or seal it well, opossums will turn their natural scavenging behavior back to its roots, chowing down on grass, nuts and fruits. This lack of garbage to feed on will also lead them to rely on a different method of finding food: hunting. Hungry opossums will hunt mice, rats, shrews, voles, insects, worms and snakes (even poisonous ones, as they are immune to the venom), keeping your yard well clear of pests. While it is often said they can even hunt birds and chickens, I myself have never seen the latter, and find the former to be a fairly rare occurrence.
Contrary to their popular image, opossums probably keep themselves cleaner than half your friends. Meticulous little creatures, they groom themselves in a manner similar to cats, and what they find, they eat. Now while that may sound a little gross, bear in mind one of the food groups I listed for opossums was insects, and this includes ticks. The creatures are veritable magnets for the bloodsuckers, and devastate some 96% of them that cross their path–up to 5,000 in a week, by some estimates! What’s more, since their immune systems are incredibly good at fighting Lyme disease, ticks that do bite and move on from an opossum have a much lower chance of spreading the disease. For this benefit alone, I generally allow as many opossums as possible to hang around my property.
Natural climbers, opossums’ sharp claws and long, prehensile (gripping) tails allow them to tackle trees with ease. They will often nest up there in tree hollows, though when such a space is not available, they have been known to nest on the ground, in the disused dens of other animals.
Have an opossum that is just too problematic to keep around? Trapping them is simple. So simple, in fact, that traps I set for other animals often end up catching a curious opossum instead. A basic live trap of the kind below is readily available from your local hardware or sporting goods store. I’ve found an open can of tuna fish generally works well for bait, though any kind of meat will do. Fruit is often an option, but I find it to be less attractive to the animals. Place the trap out at night, well away from any competing food sources (or next to inaccessible food sources, like sealed garbage cans, if you want to be sneaky), and check it in the morning. Chances are, you’ll have yourself an opossum.
When you approach, the opossum will likely open its mouth, exposing some jagged teeth and emitting a hissing sound. Do not worry. While opossums absolutely can bite you, this display just indicates the opossum is scared. Toss a sheet over the trap to calm the animal down, don some gloves, load the trap into your truck, and drive the animal at least 20 miles to relocate it. Once there, with your gloves on, simply stand behind the trap and lift the door. The opossum will waste no time running from you, and into the wilderness. Of course, always be sure to consult with your local authorities before relocating an animal.
A humble homesteader based in an undisclosed location, Lars Drecker splits his time between tending his little slice of self-sustaining heaven, and bothering his neighbors to do his work for him. This is mainly the fault of a debilitating predilection for fishing, hunting, camping and all other things outdoors. When not engaged in any of the above activities, you can normally find him broken down on the side of the road, in some piece of junk he just “fixed-up.”