Opossums, commonly just called possums, look a lot like 10-pound rats, but they are actually marsupials, similar to the kangaroo and wallaby. Their babies live first in the mother's pouch and later cling to her back as she moves from place to place until finally they are old enough to leave her. They forage at night, so you may not know you have possums around unless you find some evidence that they have visited you.
Possums are omnivores and will eat almost anything, but they have a preference for fruit, insects and carrion. They will get into your garden and eat strawberries or other fruit that they find there, and most likely they will climb over your fence rather than digging under it to gain access. They also will get into garbage cans, sometimes even tipping them over, and will eat any dog or cat food that you leave out at night.
Damage to Grass
While grass is not typically a part of an opossum's diet, according to sources such as the University of Nebraska, possums may sometimes dig up lawns as they search for worms and grubs. Just finding your lawn dug up in the morning doesn't mean that your nocturnal visitor was a possum; raccoons and skunks are more likely than possums to dig up your grass in search of food. All of these pests will dig up small sections of grass in search of the treats beneath.
Identifying the Culprit
When trying to determine what kind of critter has dug up your lawn, two things may help you to figure it out. The first is footprints. Opossum prints are long and narrow, and each of the toes shows individually. Raccoons leave prints that show each toe, but the pad areas are much more filled in and solid-looking. Raccoon prints are also shorter and wider than possums. In addition, raccoons tend to leave droppings in the same place night after night, while opossums scatter droppings everywhere. Skunks or other small animals may also be to blame for lawn damage.
Preventing Lawn Damage
In most cases possums will not damage your lawn at all, but the best way to avoid problems with them is to discourage them from coming to your yard in the first place. Pick up fallen fruit immediately and keep all garbage cans tightly covered. Don't leave pet food out at night, and fence off any areas that might attract possums, such as poultry yards or hiding places under decks, houses or other buildings. A bright light at night will also help, since possums prefer to stick to the dark.
A recipient of a business and technology degree from the master's program at West Coast University, Cindy Quarters has been writing professionally since 1984. Past experience as a veterinary technician and plenty of time gardening round out her interests. Quarters has had work featured in Radiance Magazine and the AKC Gazette.