Opossums are shy, non-aggressive creatures who have the misfortune of scaring people due to their rather odd appearance. They aren’t fierce at all. They actually have little ability to defend themselves. They don’t run fast or fight well, so their best defense is to try scaring off potential attackers. Their swaying, drooling and hissing routine is a bluff, and if that bizarre behavior doesn’t work to scare you, they fall over and play dead. Unfortunately, this bluff routine is often wrongly perceived to be rabies. Opossums are very beneficial animals. They provide free pest control by eating everything people don’t like, such as all types of bugs, small snakes, mice and even baby rats.
Opossum Seen on Lawn or in Tree
This is normal behavior, not cause for alarm. Opossums are normally seen at dawn and dusk, but can be seen anytime. They are not looking to attack or bother anyone; they are actually very gentle and harmless creatures.
Rabid Opossum Seen
Surprisingly, opossums rarely, if ever, get rabies. If an opossum is hissing, drooling, swaying and/or opening his mouth really wide (so you can see his 50 teeth!), he’s just doing a bluff routine to scare you (or a dog) off! What you’re seeing is normal defensive behavior. Leave the opossum alone and/or bring in your dog for a little while, and the opossum will leave once they realize the threat is gone.
Baby opossums stay in their mother’s pouch until they are 3 months old and the size of a mouse. At this age, they ride on mom’s back and can sometimes fall off without her noticing.
If the baby opossums are less than 7 inches long (not including the tail), they are too young to be on their own. Call your local animal control agency. If their body length is longer than 7 inches (not including tail), then they’re big enough to survive on their own.
Opossums Eating Garbage
Like most wildlife, opossums will take advantage of open or spilled garbage containers, so the solution is better containment. Secure trash lids with bungee cords, get an Animal Stopper brand garbage can (which has built-in bungee cords), put the garbage out the morning of trash pickup, or get an outdoor storage enclosure for trash cans from a home building store. Trapping won’t work to solve the problem because as long as there’s a food source, wild animals will keep coming to it.
Opossum in Garage
Opossums may wander into garages when doors are left open. First, remove access to food (for example, bird seed bags) and trash. Then open the garage door before dusk and sprinkle an 8-inch band of white flour under it. Watch for exiting footprints and close the door once the animal is gone.
Opossum Stuck in Fence or in Tree
Make sure the opossum is really stuck! If a dog has run him up a tree or onto a fence, he won’t move until the threat is long gone. If the opossum is truly stuck in a fence, contact your local animal services agency for help.
Opossums Under Deck/Shed
No need to do anything, as opossums are nomadic and will leave on their own very soon. They are gentle and non-aggressive animals who will not attack anyone. If you won’t tolerate them, seal off the deck or shed using an L-shape barrier design, but it is critical not to entrap animals or separate parents from babies who will starve without them (remember that there may be other wildlife using the deck or shed). We generally recommend sealing off the deck with mesh while leaving one exit hole and putting a one-way door over that hole so that the opossum can leave but not return. Leave the door in place for at least three days.
Opossum in Trash Can
Opossums are attracted by the smell of food but get stuck inside and can’t climb out. Slowly tip the can on its side and the opossum will come out when he’s ready (they don’t move when scared, so it may take a while). If you are uncomfortable doing this, use a broom to gently tip the trash can over. Get a secure lid for the trash can (or use bungee cords or get the Animal Stopper brand trash can) so the problem doesn’t happen again.
Opossum in Window Well
Put a thick branch or board in the window well so the opossum can climb out. Rest assured, he won’t jump up and attack! Be sure to get a window-well cover (inexpensive from home-building stores) after the opossum is gone or this problem may occur again.
Opossum in Trap
Open the trap door and then prop it open with a rock or a book so the opossum can leave on his own after he has recovered from his own fear response. When opossums are scared, they hiss and open their mouth wide in fear, but they hold their ground. Stay a good distance from the trap, and the opossum will leave once the coast is clear. He won’t come out and attack; he’s too scared!
Source: ARL – Animal Rescue League of Iowa, Inc. 2018 – https://www.arl-iowa.org/