Wildlife: Opossums

Are you experiencing an issue with wildlife in your area?  If you have an urgent concern, please get in touch with us right away.  If you are looking for more information, please click on one of the questions below to expand the content and find your answer.  If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team at DFW Wildlife Coalition.

A baby opossum can be identified by the thumb on the rear foot.

The rule of thumb is to rescue a baby opossum if it is less than 8 inches from nose to butt. A dollar bill is 6-inches and can be a handy ruler. They are extremely vulnerable to predators. Often, they will fall off the mom while traveling. Mother opossums never return for the baby.

Typical size of baby opossum that needs immediate rescue.

If the baby opossum is:

Two inches longer than a dollar bill, appears to be healthy, has no injuries, has no visible parasites, is not attracting ants or flies, then the opossum does not need rescuing.

If you must chase an opossum to rescue him and he is 8 inches long, he does not need to be rescued!

If the opossum is without a mother and appears to be thin and lethargic even though it is 8 inches or longer, please consult with the DFW Wildlife Coalition hotline or a local opossum rehabilitator. Opossums are susceptible to flea anemia and the opossum you found might need a helping hand.

This video demonstrates how baby opossums can fall off the mother and she not be aware.

 

The opossum I found is pink and is only a few inches in length. What should I do?
Sadly, there isn’t much you can do to help pink baby opossums. Pink baby opossums rarely survive in a rehab center.

To understand why, consider the following:

An opossum is born after a 12-day gestation period. It is not fully developed.

A newborn opossum is the size of a jellybean and will crawl into the pouch. It will then attach to the mother’s teats for 24/7 nourishment for the next two months.

Inside the pouch the babies are kept a consistent temperature, as if in an incubator.

It is difficult to impossible for a wildlife rehabilitator to match the perfect conditions of the mother opossum’s pouch.

Contact the hotline and we will refer you to a rehabilitator that will humanely euthanize, to prevent prolong suffering.

A video of baby opossums in the mother’s pouch.

Please reference our “Quick Tips” located in the upper right corner of our website for instructions on containing, transporting, providing life saving heat, and finding a wildlife rehabilitator.

Congratulations! Having an opossum in your backyard is the same as having a personal pest removal service. Opossums eat pests such as roaches, grubs, grasshoppers, and ticks, just to name a few. They also search out decaying fruit left on the ground, mice, rats, and dead animals. Most folks like the fact that opossums actively seek and kill all venomous snakes, except the coral snake. Best of all, their service is free!

Opossums are nomadic and will move along once their food source disappears. They have 50 sharp teeth and might appear menacing; however, they are inoffensive unless you are foolish enough to put your hand in their mouth. An opossum will climb a tree, get under a log or rock, or retreat slowly to avoid conflict.

If you have a dog, the dog will be the aggressor and corner the opossum. In this situation, expect the opossum to show its 50 teeth, drool, and look terribly fierce. Don’t worry! This is all show. Cornered opossums that feel threatened often fall over and appear to be dead. When this happens they will excrete a green foul smelling fluid. This is defense tactic and is where the term “playing possum” originated. This coma-like state is an uncontrollable reflex as most animals will not eat an animal that smells like spoiled meat. You can help a comatose opossum survive by:

IMMEDIATELY PUT YOUR DOG IN THE HOUSE! If the opossum is injured, contact an opossum wildlife rehabilitator or the DFW Wildlife Coalition hotline.

If you are certain, your dog did not make contact, leave your yard and give the opossum several minutes to a couple of hours to recover. Never assume the opossum is dead and bury or place in a trash bag, because it may indeed be alive.

Be sure and look for babies when an opossum is comatose as they can fall out of the pouch. Mom will not collect the babies once she revives. Contact the DFW Wildlife Coalition hotline with any questions or concerns.

Cats and opossums rarely, if ever tangle. UNLESS, it is a baby opossum/juvenile; then a cat is a threat. Wildlife that has been in a cat’s mouth MUST go to a rehabilitator.

Opossums are part of the natural world and are present whether you see them or not. They are nature’s sanitation engineers and provide a valuable service as they quietly eat pests and dead animals. If you are truly bothered and want to discourage their presence in your yard, know that:

Rabies in the opossum is very rare and considered negligible.

Opossums are not susceptible to distemper as our dogs and other wildlife.

If you want to discourage opossums, keep your trash secure, do not leave pet food out, limit bird feeding, frequently change the time of day you feed feral cats, and do not allow fruit/nuts to fall and decay on the ground.

Evicting an opossum is the same as evicting a raccoon or a skunk. However, removing any food sources is usually enough to encourage an opossum to move on.

First an understanding of why we have wildlife in our cities.  

As our cities encroached on fields and woods the wildlife adapted. Our greenbelts and water features in our planned communities, provide shelter, water, and a place to hunt. The wildlife moves around our cities freely, utilizing our creeks/streams, greenbelts, and storm drainage systems. Further adaptions were made as smaller territories were required as an alternative food supply of garbage was consumed instead of exclusively hunting. Den choices became plentiful as wildlife discovered our homes/decks were great dens.

Two species who have adapted extremely well are the raccoon and opossum. Their populations in the cities are known to be 5 to 8 times greater than their country counterpart.

Mammal predators in our cities include, bobcats, coyotes, and to a lesser degree raccoons, foxes, skunks and opossums.  Their diets consist of a wide range of insects, lizards, frogs, snakes, mice, rats, rabbits, squirrels, and ducks. All except the bobcat are omnivores which extends their diet to also include plants such as fruits, berries, and nuts. A quick look around in your neighborhood, you will understand there is plenty of food. We have made those food sources even denser with accessible dumpsters and feeding of wildlife such as ducks at the park, bird or squirrel feeders in our yards.  In fact, food is so plentiful that hunting is not always a requirement when you can quickly dive into a dumpster and dine on our leftovers.

Life in the cities is indeed easier for the wildlife.

It is understandable that wildlife and humans will have conflicts.  As we learned to live with our wild neighbors, studies have revealed that traditional trapping of wildlife does not solve the urban wildlife conflict. With abundant resources of food, water, and shelter the remaining animals will absorb that vacant territory in a very short time. In many cases, such as the coyote, when a resident pair are removed the surrounding coyotes absorb the vacant territory allowing for the success of larger litters.  The results are a larger coyote population than prior to removal.  Studies also reveal that relocated trapped animals seldom survive, as most are territorial.

Another consideration for trapping and relocating is to keep the predator prey balance. When this delicate balance is disturbed there is an increase in rodent, rabbit, and deer populations. Increased rodent population can be a public health risk.

To effectively resolve wildlife conflicts long term, address the basic needs of life; food, water, and shelter.

FOOD

If you want to feed the birds, please put a day’s portion of seed when you can enjoy the songbirds. An overflowing bird feeder attracts rodents, rabbits, and squirrels. The prey eating the seed on the ground attracts the opossum, raccoon, skunk, bobcat, fox, or coyote. You are responsible for creating this food chain in your backyard.

Don’t allow fruit, acorns, and nuts to accumulate.

Place your garbage out the morning of pick up.  If you must place out the night before, put half a cup of ammonia in the can to discourage rummaging.  Keep dumpster doors and lids closed.  Consider purchasing animal proof containers. (see our PRODUCTS PAGE in the upper right menu) Place your containers away from walls or fences to discourage access.

Do not keep pet food out.  If you must feed your dog outside, please pick up any remaining food after 20-30 minutes.  Consider feeding indoors to prevent fire ants and flies in your pet’s food.

When feeding feral cats, put out enough food for the cats, remove any food not eaten within a short-designated time.  Any time wildlife joins the feeding, alter the time so that the raccoons, opossums, etc. arrive late for the buffet.

Do not store pet food or seeds in your garage or out buildings unless secured in a container that cannot be opened or chewed.

Compost.  Don’t put food scraps in your compost pile. When using a compost bin keep the doors closed.

Manage pets. Coyotes, bobcats, hawks, and owls consider our small pets (rabbit size or smaller) to be fair prey.  We must be responsible for their safety when outdoors.  When walking, keep your pet on a six-foot leash.  Small pets should be housed inside. Vaccinate your pets annually.

Keep cats indoors, as there are multiple dangers in our communities such as cars, disease, cat fights, dogs, hawks, owls, coyotes and bobcats.  Cats are the major cause of song birds, rabbits, baby opossums, and baby squirrels’ admissions to a wildlife rehabilitator.

WATER

Water your lawns during the day. Adjust sprinkler systems to prevent pooling of water.

The use of motion detector devices using either/or a combination of light, sound, and water can reduce visits to your pools or ponds. Visit our PRODUCTS PAGE (located in the upper right of the menu) for several recommended deterrents. Shopping on our site, supports the hotline.

SHELTER

Avoid allowing landscape to become overgrown.  Trim overhanging limbs to discourage roof access. Thin brushy areas.  Keep your grass maintained.

Don’t keep junk piles or accumulate debris.

Compost piles create heat that could attract wildlife seeking shelter from the cold. If using a bin keep the doors closed.

Seal areas and/or correct any erosion that could become den sites under a storage shed, a deck, or under a pier and beam home.

For pier and beam homes check your foundation vents and replace with a sturdy hardware cloth to prevent entry.

Decks should be constructed so that wildlife cannot get under. The base can be wood, rock, brick or hardware cloth to ground level. To prevent digging bury wire from the base “L” shaped attached at a 45-degree angle with the base extending at least 12 inches away from the sides. The 12 inches will discourage digging. Buried depth is recommended to be 4 to 6 inches.

Cap your chimney.  Keep your roof and eaves in good repair to prevent entry by rodents, squirrels, or raccoons.

Our urban predators are naturally fearful of humans.  Don’t allow a food source to create a conflict inviting unnatural behavior from your wild neighbors.

Teach children to respect and never approach or touch wildlife.  Explain the wildlife’s role in our cities and to always get an adult to help if wildlife is in need. Small children should always be supervised as there are many dangers in our cities.

Share this information with your neighbors, family and friends. Through education and responsible behavior, wildlife and humans can coexist in our cities.

A good video showing predator prey in an urban eco-system

Opossums are naturally nomadic. Once dining opportunities are gone, they typically move along. An opossum may stay for several days if she has babies, patience is recommended.

Mild deterrents can be used to encourage the opossum to move. At dusk, because opossums are nocturnal, introduce a bright light, a radio on a 24-hour Talk or Rap station and Apple Cider Vinegar-soaked rags at the den. Turn these deterrents off at day break. The next morning, check for babies that could have been left behind in the den and in the yard. Cover the den opening with newspaper. If not disturbed for 24 hours the opossum has moved.  On rare occasions, you may need to repeat the deterrents a second night.  Do not attempt an eviction when adverse weather is expected.

The most important step is to repair or secure the den site to prevent re-entry. If the den site was under a deck or building, secure by constructing a “L” shape barrier of hardware cloth. The horizontal of the “L” will be at a 45-degree angle away from the structure at least 12 inches in width and submerged four inches or so. An animal that typically digs to gain access will quickly be discouraged from this barrier and will move on.

Skunk, opossum, raccoon, or armadillo enjoy dining on grub worms.  Digging activity is usually noticed after a lot of rain or overwatering from a sprinkler system.  The moisture causes the grubs to rise to the surface.  Wildlife eating grubs is beneficial and is free pest control.   Once the grubs are eaten the wildlife will continue their journey.  Patience and tolerance are recommended.

To Encourage the Wildlife to Move Sooner, adopt these changes to your lawn maintenance.

Practice deep watering of your lawn especially in August. The grub eggs require frequent moisture to hatch.  By limiting the frequency of watering, the moisture reduction will reduce the number of eggs hatching.

In late spring to early summer, reduce outdoor lighting which attracts the June bugs and other beetles.  This may reduce egg laying in your yard.

Do not cut your lawn short as this makes a more attractive site for laying eggs. Let it remain taller.

Over seed your lawn in the spring and fall.  A thick lawn is too dense to accommodate the beetles.

Use an eco-friendly fertilizer for your lawn in the spring and fall.  A healthy lawn is more resistant to pests. A good comparison with tips at this site:  http://www.greenhome.com/blog/cut-the-crap-making-your-own-eco-friendly-fertilizer-is-easier-than-you-think

Attract birds to your yard that may dine on grub worms and other insects.

These Products are Recommended for the Treatment of Grubs.

Your purchase through our product page supports the DFW Wildlife Coalition Hotline.  

Mix 1 cup Castor oil, 1 cup liquid dish soap, and 1-gallon of water.  Put in a garden sprayer and spray the area of concern. You will need to respray as needed due to rain or sprinkler system.

One longer-term solution is a product called “Milky Spore”, (not effective in Texas for the white grub), this is a natural non-toxic bacterium that will kill grubs and can be purchased online or your local garden store.

Beneficial Nematodes is another long-term solution for grubs and can be purchased online or at garden stores.  In Texas, commercially-available nematodes have shown a 50% reduction of grubs. Carefully follow instructions for the best results.

According to Texas A&M Agri-Life Extension the repeated use of spiked sandals (sold for aerating) over the infested turf may reduce grub population by 50%.

Apply Neem oil as a botanical pesticide.

Adopt the lawn care recommendations.  Encourage those insect eating birds.  And if needed the products recommended to reduce the digging activity in your yard.  Remember the wildlife are beneficial in keeping our rodent populations under control.

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