Just like in the real world, in pest control there are “good guys” and “bad guys.”
Also like the real world, it’s not always that cut and dry. Sometimes the “good guys” are widely (but incorrectly) considered to be “bad guys,” and the “bad guys” misinterpreted to be “good guys.”
Let’s take a closer look at one of the characters living in your yard that is almost universally considered to be a bad guy—but isn’t!
Often mistaken as a “HUGE RAT,” the opossum (or possum as it’s more frequently called in North America, though scientifically speaking they are technically two different species) is very distant from the rodent pests we so often encounter. In fact, besides nearly hairless tails and the desire to sleep during the day, rats and opossums have little in common.
So, if a rat is a rodent, what is an opossum?
Well, to start with, they’re North America’s only marsupial!
This means that the young are born undeveloped and mature in the mother’s pouch. (Think kangaroo on a smaller scale.) Once they’re big enough to experience the outside world, young opossums trade the comfort of Mom’s pouch for a ride on her back. They’ll remain with her this way until they’re strong enough to begin fending for themselves.
A question we often get in our office is, “How do I get rid of the possum in my yard?”
My response is, “Why would you want to?”
Almost always, the reason I get is “They’re ugly” or “They’re scary.”
A mother opossum might argue otherwise, but it’s no reason for them to be removed. In fact, they have a few qualities that make them unique and helpful additions to the cast of characters in your garden.
Let’s take a closer look at a few things you may want to consider about your “ugly” neighbor.
Opossums Might Be More Interesting Than Your Actual Neighbors
Opossums have a prehensile tail. Although not attractive when compared to the fluffy tails of other small animals, the opossum can use its tail as a fifth appendage. Not only can young opossums hang from their tails, adults can use their tails to carry grass and leaves, which they use to build nests. Let’s see your cat try that!
How many characters in your backyard “play dead”? Opossums can perform this circus trick, though not willingly as it is often portrayed. When threatened, they will sometimes fall into a coma-like state resembling death, but they have no control over when it happens or how long it lasts.
You probably consider your domestic cat to be quite clean in comparison to most small animals, thanks to their meticulous grooming habits. Guess what? Opossums do the same thing. Because they live outside and don’t have the benefit of flea and tick medications, opossums are subjected to tick infestations. However, having good hygiene, the opossum will discover these invaders as they groom—and devour them.
That’s good for you! A single mature opossum can consume up to 5,000 ticks in a single season. That means fewer ticks in your yard, on your pets, and potentially in your home. Thank you, Mrs. Possum!
For those of you worried that the opossum in your yard will give your pet rabies, rest easy. While a rabid opossum is not unheard of, it’s highly unlikely. An opossum’s body temperature is too low for the rabies virus to survive for long. Additionally, opossums are generally non-confrontational and will flee from your pet if given the opportunity, making contact unlikely.
This is a pretty compelling list for having opossums on your team, but wait—it gets better!
When it comes to diet, homeowners can count on opossums to be good partners. These guys are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and animals. They aren’t that picky.
However, they do prefer rotting fruit and vegetables over fresh ones, so you won’t often see them eating your produce. Instead, they’ll helpfully eat the fruit that has dropped from your trees—so you don’t have to pick it up. Try getting your teenager to do that!
When it comes to food of the “live and running” kind, opossums enjoy noshing on slugs, snails, lizards, and frogs. They will also eat large numbers of rats, mice, and even snakes—making them a truly invaluable neighbor.
(In fact, they’re immune from most snake venom! This fascinating quality has rendered them a serious subject of study in the medical world.)
Please Don’t Hurt Us
Hopefully, these are enough reasons to make you reconsider the next time you spot one of these guys in your garden. Please don’t trap them, poison them, remove them, or kill them just because of how they look.
You may still believe the opossum is, as my dear friend June used to say, “rather unfortunate looking,” but it’s hard to argue they aren’t good neighbors. Simply leave them be to live their lives. They’ll return the favor by contributing to pest control in your yard.
Can’t get enough of the cuteness? Check out this video of Ophelia the Rescue Opossum.
Todd Stebleton is the owner and operator of Universal Pest Control, a family-owned business for over 25 years in Ormond Beach, Florida. He and his wife Natalie are proud to have built a company focused on conducting business with honesty and integrity: keeping customers first, protecting the environment, and providing trustworthy, personal service.
Universal: Honest, Environmentally Friendly Pest Control