Opossum - Should we live and let live?
March 2, 2011 7:15 AM   Subscribe

My mom lives just north of Toronto, Canada and she has an opossum visiting her bird feeder. Is it imperative that she call pest control and get rid of it? Is it dangerous, a nuisance, will get in the rafters? She would like to leave it alone, if it leaves her alone but not sure it that expectation is based on any reality - any suggestions?
posted by Minos888 to Home & Garden (14 answers total)
There are a bunch of them around here, I don't think I've ever heard of them being a problem, aside from people hitting them with cars a lot.
posted by ghharr at 7:22 AM on March 2, 2011

I would leave it alone. "Opossums rarely cause problems for humans, but often frighten people by their rat-like appearance. Opossums are excellent at rodent and insect control; and, being carrion eaters, they help keep roadways and neighborhoods clean. Opossums are more beneficial as scavengers than harmful for any damage they cause. A neighborhood with opossums tends to be considerably cleaner than a neighborhood without them. "
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:28 AM on March 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Possums might be dangerous if/when attacked (it could be argued they're also dangerous when crossing the road, but that's more due to driver reactions than to the possum itself). But usually they play dead, and are shy and harmless.

How is the possum getting into the feeder? Is it set on a post? Might be better to hang it by a rope from a tree branch or something. Chipmunks will steal loads of birdfeed.

Strategies for making Bird Feeders feed only birds, from a university partnership that created the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management. Possums aren't on their list of animals that attack, FWIW.
posted by fraula at 7:30 AM on March 2, 2011

Possums are a beneficial visitor and lots of fun to watch. As an added benefit, they don't get rabies or other diseases common in mammals.
posted by buggzzee23 at 7:37 AM on March 2, 2011

Ontario regulations require that pest control operators who capture a live animal must release it no further than 1 kilometer from the point of capture.
So there's a very good chance the opossum would come back anyway. Leaving it alone is the best option, but check that it isn't nesting in the house.
posted by rocket88 at 7:47 AM on March 2, 2011

When I was growing up there were possums that periodically came up on our second story deck to eat the cat food we put out for our cats. We lived in a temperate climate and often left one of the doors to the deck open so the cats could come and go, and usually had some dry food in a bowl in the kitchen for the cats - eventually one of the possums caught on to this and would come into the kitchen and eat from the bowl like he was a cat. It was like he thought we wouldn't notice if walked past us and just pretended like everything was cool, and he was just a really ugly cat. We named him Petey. (So no, not dangerous, kind of cute and cool.)
posted by wuzandfuzz at 7:53 AM on March 2, 2011 [10 favorites]

As an added benefit, they don't get rabies or other diseases common in mammals.

This is a myth. They can and do. It's rarer than many other mammals, but it still happens.
posted by galadriel at 8:14 AM on March 2, 2011

We had a possum visiting our birdfeeder. Our labrador went out, fetched it up, and tried to bring it into the house. He was so proud of his catch and so disappointed when we told him to drop it. I thought he had killed it, but apparently they really do play dead.

It didn't come back into our yard after that.
posted by Ostara at 8:42 AM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Opossums are fine and I wouldn't worry much about it with one special caveat. If your mom happens to have a horse or goats (not stated in question so fairly unlikely) -- opossum droppings can carry diseases which effect the nervous system of horses/goats/possibly other hoofed creatures. I wouldn't necessarily encourage removal of said opossum as it might be perfectly healthy but if the hoofed beasts are ill, remember the opossum and bring it up to the vet.

Reference: http://www.horsebarn.com/content/horse-diseases/horse-diseases-possums.aspx
posted by countrymod at 8:48 AM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Opossums are probably pretty rare in Toronto, as their exposed tails are vulnerable to cold and their range is limited at its northern end. So you probably aren't that familiar with them (incidentally, that range map clearly shows they aren't in Minnesota, but they definitely are; I've seen them here; it's probably another effect of climate change that allows them to expand their range).

In areas that are more common, they are seen as a somewhat ridiculous nightime prowler, or as roadkill. Their habits as scavengers probably help contribute to that. I think they're cool and you shouldn't sweat it. But yeah, maybe don't fill the feeder for a few days or otherwise make it possum-proof, which should be about the same countermeasures needed as making your feeder squirrel-proof.
posted by norm at 9:03 AM on March 2, 2011

Just make sure it isn't living in a crawlspace or shed, and, uh, that there aren't any places it could get trapped in and die. My only experience with opposum removal has been carcasses in swimming pools and other horrifying places. They're exactly like uglier, less stinky skunks in that respect.
posted by SMPA at 9:20 AM on March 2, 2011

Possums are cool. I had a friend who (far as I know still does) fostered orphan possums from roadkilled possum mommas. They're quite fun, reasonably smart, and loved to steal cigarettes out of Wes's breast pocket.
posted by notsnot at 9:23 AM on March 2, 2011

If she's worried about it moving in, she might want to critter-proof her crawlspaces. They are a nuisance when they start having large families.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:58 AM on March 2, 2011

We've had possums in our backyard (in a neighborhood that could hardly be more urban); they lived under the deck for a while, and then moved into the crawlspace under the house. They were never a problem - kept their distance, didn't rip up plants or try to get into the garbage. All in all, good neighbors. They appear to have been evicted, however, as I've seen a pair of (enormous!) raccoons in our yard several times over the last week. I much prefer the possums.
posted by rtha at 10:13 AM on March 2, 2011

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