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Are Possums Dangerous to Humans and Pets?

Vijith Menon
If you are scared of rodents, then possums will creep you out. Although they appear cute, they can be malicious in self-defense. But with recent updates that possums carry diseases that afflict the skin, it brings us to ask ourselves, are possums dangerous? Let's find out.

Did You Know?

A possum's normal lifespan is around 2 to 4 years.
Have you found your tomato plants destroyed endlessly? Hear someone rummaging through your trash can? As you grab your baseball bat and tiptoe stealthily downstairs and investigate the source of your disturbance, what do you find? A round, awny face that hisses loudly at your presence, apparently disturbed that you interrupted its dinner.
Pests like these have become common in suburban areas. We, as humans, have encroached so far into the forests that these animals have no choice but to co-exist in order to survive. And yes, we are talking about possums. These animals probably reside in nearby trees, as it gives them close access to fruits and a good vantage point to find some roadkill.
Possums look nothing like Eddie and Crash from Ice Age. In fact, they are vicious and prefer to be solitary. But some people adopt possums as pets, and have lived quite comfortably alongside them. But human nature is fickle. Like the waves of the sea, we prefer to lash out against the rocks, without knowing how or why.

Identification and Characteristics

► Possums are small to medium-sized marsupials with large bushy tails, found in North America. They have a pointed nose with a pinkish face. They have dark eyes and fifty canine teeth, strong enough to chew skin.
They are often confused with giant rodents. Their official name is 'opossum', but they are commonly called possums.
► They are omnivores, and their diet consists of rats, mice, bugs, snakes, chickens, and worms.
► Possums are immune to the venom of vipers and rattlesnakes.
► They are generally docile creatures who are nocturnal. They are nomadic in nature, and prolong their stay in places bountiful of food and water. They hide in burrows and prefer dark places like basements and attics.
► When threatened, they play 'possum'; they can simulate death and lie still for four long hours. They won't move even when prodded or turned around. This defense mechanism helps them in protecting themselves against physically larger enemies.
► Brushtail possums are native to Australia, and are considered to be a real pest, as they destroy pine plantations. Ringtail possums have made New Zealand their home.
► Their natural predators include dogs, coyotes, raccoons, bobcats, eagles, foxes, hawks, and owls.

Against Pets

►Birds, otters, and horses should generally avoid possums. If any of these animals ingest possum feces, it may lead to sarcocystis. To avoid such a situation, it's better to clean the area of any droppings, as it may get mixed up in hay or grass easily. Keeping food out of the barn will prove to be less tempting for the possum.
► Adult cats are unusually friendly with possums, and share their food readily with them.
► Dogs are a general enemy of possums. They'll bark the house down if they spot a possum. You can't really blame a possum for fighting back as his last stand. It would protect its territory, as any animal would.
► Possums eat carrion and roadkill. In spite of this, they don't carry rabies, and the chances of one of them being infected by it is 1 in 800.

Against Humans

► Possum feces contains bacteria that is harmful to humans. They may cause life-threatening ulcers, and can result in permanent disfigurement.
► Possums are beneficial to humans, as they eat harmful insects like bugs, cockroaches, rats, mice, and snakes.
► Possums rarely confront humans, and play possum to escape tricky situations. But if you do get bitten by one, it's best to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, and get it examined by a physician.

The Verdict

Opossums are scavengers that hunt for food which is easily available. This rodent is also responsible for causing traffic issues. Many of them are hit by cars as they try to hunt for food.
If you still feel one around is too troublesome, call Animal Control and let them take care of it. And you find a dead mother, check her pouch and release her pups if they are still in there. It's the humane thing to do.
Now that you know a lot more about possums, you can make an informed decision as to how to deal with this mammal.