Opossums are the only marsupials native to North America and the United States. Marsupials are mammals whose young are born into and nurtured within a pouch on the mother's belly until they are large enough to survive in the outside world. Opossums can carry up to 13 babies in their pouch, and when large enough, the babies crawl out and ride around clinging to their mother's back. Opossums are born the size of a grain of rice, and mature while in the pouch. Opossum can be spelled either with or without the traditional silent "o."
Reading animal signs includes finding and identifying tracks, trails, excrement and feeding areas. Each animal leaves behind a unique sign that tells you what species you are dealing with. Possums, which are omnivores, are somewhat clumsy and messy when feeding. Like raccoons and bears, they will feed from the most available source, be that your trash can, vegetable garden or compost pile. Possums have a special fondness for pet food if left out overnight. Look for tracks; possum tracks show long "fingers" and end with claw indentations. The rear paw is larger than the fore paw, and shows a "thumb" that extends toward the rear inside of the print.
This is the surest way to tell if the noises in your wall are being made by a possum. Possum poop is much like dog feces. The excrement is about 3/4 of an inch thick and smooth on the sides with a taper at the ends. They are dark brown to black, and may mold with age. Many times they are curved. Possum poop is most commonly found in areas with shelter on at least two sides, and if found out in the yard will likely be on a bed of leaves or other debris.
Noise and Odor
Possums are noisy house guests, but since they are nocturnal and leave their den to feed at night, noise will cease after dark and likely start up again as they return at dawn. The level of noise also depends on the number of possums in residence. Unlike rats, often accompanied by chewing sounds, opossums make shuffling and scraping sounds as they move about in the walls. Possums possess a very strong odor. The presence of an unusual and foul odor in your home may point to there being a possum living in your walls. Their urine smells strong and often leaves stains behind.
If you suspect you have a possum in residence, it is best to hire a professional to deal with it. Possums have very sharp teeth and carry a number of pathogens like leptospirosis and salmonella. They are not, however, considered a rabies-vector species. Although any mammal can carry rabies, possums have a low body temperature which makes their blood inhospitable to the rabies virus. They are unpredictable when cornered. If you are confident in your abilities and have a wildlife rehabilitation expert to coach you, you can attempt to trap a possum in a live trap, but your state animal control department should be called in to relocate the possum safely. Be sure to find and seal the entry point where the possum or possums originally gained access to the wall.
- Professional Wildlife Removal: Opossum Control and Removal
- BearTrackers; Opossum Tracks: Kim A. Cabrera; November 2010
- Professional Wildlife Removal: Photographs of Opossum Poop
- Heyne's Garden Centre: Fact Sheets - Possums
- Opossum Society of the United States: Frequently Asked Questions
- Alderleaf Wilderness College: Identifying Animal Tracks and Other Animal Tracking Skills
- United Wildlife Control: Opossums
Angela Baird has been writing professionally since 1995. She has a wide range of life experiences from work with abused animals with the Humane Society, to more than 20 years of hands-on experience in the culinary arts. In addition, she keeps horses and does her own home improvements and home gardening.