Americans flock to zoos and even travel to Australia to see kangaroos, but they may never have seen the United States' native marsupial: the possum, also known as the opossum. Opossums, like kangaroos, carry their young in external pouches, but they are nocturnal marsupials, meaning they are largely active at night. You may already have possums in your yard without knowing it since they try hard not to be seen, but in case you don't, there are simple steps you can take to make these beneficial animals welcome.
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Meet the Opossum
The Virginia opossum is native to North America and is an incredibly interesting animal. Since these critters do not wander around in the open during the day, they can be hard to spot. About the size of a house cat at some 10 pounds, an opossum is at least 2 feet long and often 3 feet or longer. They are slow-moving animals and don't see very well.
A possum has a white face and light-gray or almost-black fur that covers its entire body except its ears and prehensile tail, used for grasping things. Thanks in part to their tails, opossums are good climbers. They also swim well and often escape predators by climbing or swimming. In a worst-case scenario, an opossum will pretend to be dead, which is yet another way of getting away from a larger enemy alive. Mother possums carry all of their babies on their backs to move from place to place.
Understand the Possum
Opossums may not be the cutest creatures on the planet, but they are extremely beneficial to have in the backyard. They are omnivores and get rid of insects, ticks, snails, snakes, slugs, mice, rats, and other small rodents by eating them. This can be a huge boon to a gardener. Think of these scavengers as a natural pest control method. Cockroaches? Poisonous snakes? Nasty ticks? Possums eat them all.
That's not all they eat. They love overripe fruit that smashes on the ground as well as fallen vegetables. They will eat virtually any garbage or carcasses they come across. That means they help keep the garden and orchard floor clean.
Encourage Opossums to Visit
Possums are naturally cautious and try to keep out of sight of humans. If you want to make them feel at home in your backyard, help them in this endeavor. Allow shrubs and small trees to grow around the edges of your yard near any fencing you have installed. This will both allow opossums to get into and out of the yard and will provide them with cover when they come.
Possums are scavengers and will be attracted to any yard where food is plentiful. Planting fruits, veggies, and even flowers will bring insects, snails, and slugs to your yard. This will in time attract hungry possums.
In addition to garden snacks, possums will eat virtually anything, from cat food to compost heap contents to garbage. Possums tend to enter a yard that has overflowing garbage cans with strong odors. Leaving food scraps in the garbage will definitely be a draw for opossums. They particularly love sweet potatoes and yams. Put out a bowl of water as well.