There’s an opossum in my yard. Is it time to freak out?

Last week, when The Eleven-Year-Old and I came home from school, we discovered our normally droopy cat on high alert.

When you are used to coming home and seeing some version of this:

(Photo: Shala Howell)

But instead see this…

(Photo: Shala Howell)

It kind of gets your attention.

Normally, it’s something that falls into the Compelling-to-Cats-but-Funny-to-Humans category, like a grey squirrel talking smack to an indoor-only cat, but…

“That’s a funny looking squirrel, The Eleven-Year-Old,” I said.

“That’s not a squirrel, Mommyo.”

The funny-looking squirrel obligingly moved out from under our sidewalk, so I could get a better look.

(Photo: Shala Howell)

“Oh dear. There’s an opossum in our back yard.”

The Eleven-Year-Old, worriedly: “Is it time to freak out?”

The 3-second answer (That’s “tl;dr” for all you youngsters out there) 

No.

The 1-minute explanation for “No”

Although opossums have wicked looking teeth and a frankly creepy tail, they are typically gentle creatures. According to the Opossum Society of the United States, these nocturnal buck-toothed predators are remarkably docile, considering they regularly devour snakes, snails, mice, spiders, rats, and cockroaches.

Some people might even consider opossums a gardener’s best friend. After all, opossums will happily clean up the rotting fruit that dropped off your fruit trees before you remembered to go out and pick it. That’s service.

According to the Opossum Society, the only time you need to do anything about the opossum traipsing through your backyard is if he is injured or shorter than 7 inches from nose to rump. If either is true about your backyard visitor, then it’s time to call the Opossum Society of the United States, a local wildlife rehabilitator, a veterinarian, or your local animal shelter.

I told my husband all this, and you can guess his response:

“The Opossum Society? What kind of fly-by-night possum activist group is that? You need to back this up with data from another source.”

So I visited the website for the Humane Society of the United States. There I found much of the same information I’d already found on the Opossum Society’s page, along with some pretty specific descriptions of things opossums are blamed for, but almost never do.

According to the Humane Society, the opossum isn’t the beast that killed your chickens. Nor is he the guy who tipped over your trash (although as long as it’s already tipped over, our little opossum friend will happily treat himself to dinner).

That open-mouthed hissing and drooling? Probably not a sign of rabies (rabies is rare in opossums), although you really should stay away from the opossum anyway. I mean, you wouldn’t want to him to get really scared and play dead all over your newly laid mulch.

As long as everyone–pets, curious adults, and small children–keeps their distance from the opossum, no one needs to get hurt. Just sit back and enjoy watching this little bit of wildlife do its part to keep your garden ship-shape.

Enjoy that extra help while it lasts. Your new opossum buddy will most likely move on to your neighbor’s garden before too long.

Want to encourage the opossum to leave sooner? 

The Humane Society’s page includes some helpful tips for discouraging opossums from visiting your garden, such as:

  • Putting a tight-fitting lid on your garbage can
  • Keeping holes filled under your deck or patio to discourage mother opossums from denning there
  • Locking your pet doors at night so that opossums won’t use them to enter the house

Related links:

 

 

About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book will focus on science, and how parents without a science degree can answer their curious child's questions without enrolling in a college level refresher course. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Eleven-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, chatting about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.blog, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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2 Responses to There’s an opossum in my yard. Is it time to freak out?

  1. rayworth1973 says:

    We used to have them wander through our yard in Oklahoma. Not very friendly, for the most part. Sharp teeth. Best to leave them alone or at least chase them away with something long!

    Like

  2. Pingback: Critter update: The opossums strike back | CATERPICKLES

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