Opossums (possums): A Guide to Their Habits and Habitat

Two baby possums laying amongst some flower pots with greenery growing all around, one is hissing at the camera.

Opossums, also known as possums, are the largest order of marsupials in the Western Hemisphere. There are 93 species in 18 genera of possums. They originated in South America and entered North America in the Great American Interchange following the connection of the two continents. 

The Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) is the only species found in the United States and Canada, and can also be found in Mexico and Central America. These nocturnal mammals have a unique appearance, with a cone-shaped nose, a pink tip, and a hairless prehensile tail that aids in climbing and helps them maintain balance while foraging for food.

Possums have a diverse diet, feeding on insects, fruit, grass, mice, birds, and even carrion as scavengers. They are known for their unique defense mechanism called “playing possum,” in which they involuntarily play dead when threatened by predators such as dogs, cats, foxes, and bobcats. 

The possums’ immunity to snake venom also makes them efficient predators of snakes, including some venomous species. They are adaptable creatures that can survive in various habitats, from forests to urban areas. Possums usually nest in tree holes or burrows made by other animals, and occasionally in human structures.

As marsupials, possums reproduce by giving birth to tiny, underdeveloped offspring that complete their development inside the female’s pouch. The gestation period for possums is only 12-14 days, and the joeys emerge from the pouch 70-125 days later. 

Despite their widespread presence and adaptability, possums are often misunderstood and sometimes mistaken for rodents. However, they play a vital role in controlling insect populations and are generally considered beneficial for the ecosystem.

What time of night do possums come out?

The Didelphis virginiana species, commonly referred to as the Virginia opossum, is the only marsupial found in North America. These creatures exhibit nocturnal behavior and mainly come out during the night to fulfill their critical needs.

Possums typically emerge from their dens just before sunset and remain active until dawn. This nocturnal behavior allows them to avoid predators such as owls, foxes, and coyotes, which play a significant role in determining their activity levels. Possums are highly adaptable and can coexist with humans in both urban and rural environments.

At nighttime, possums engage in various activities that help them survive in their habitats. Some of these activities include

  • Foraging for food–Being omnivorous, possums have a diverse diet and mainly feed on fruits, vegetables, insects, small animals, and carrion.
  • Av predators–Opossums use their nocturnal behavior to stay safe from predators that may not be active at night, such as birds of prey.
  • Searching for mates–Breeding occurs throughout the year, and the nighttime serves as an ideal period for possums to look for potential mates.

Interestingly, possums have an involuntary behavior known as “playing possum” or “playing dead.” When threatened or frightened, they tend to collapse and appear lifeless, exuding a foul odor that deters predators. This act is not intentional and is triggered by extreme fear or stress.

What does it mean if a possum is out during the day?

Possums are nocturnal, meaning they are most active during the night. They prefer to remain hidden from predators and return to their dens during daylight.

When a possum is seen out during the day, it could be for various reasons. One of the possible reasons is food scarcity. If food becomes scarce in their environment, the possum may venture out during the day to hunt for more supplies or even a quick snack. This can be seen as akin to a human waking up in the middle of the night to visit the fridge.

In cases where the opossum appears confused or sluggish during the day, it might be due to being easily surprised. When sensing danger, possums are known for their behavior of “playing possum”, where they fall over, salivate excessively, and appear dead. This behavior mimics rabies symptoms, but possums have a high resistance to the disease due to their low body temperature.

Even though possums have a high resistance to rabies, they can still contract other diseases. A sick opossum might go against its instincts by venturing out during the day. It is crucial to be cautious around any possum encountered during daylight hours, keeping a safe distance to avoid any potential problems.

It’s essential to understand that an opossum’s presence during the day may be due to a variety of factors. While daytime activity may indicate an issue such as food scarcity or illness, it’s always best to keep a safe distance for both the opossum’s welfare and personal safety.

Why do possums hang around my house?

Possums are widespread and known for their habit of hanging around human residences, particularly in urban areas. Possums are usually attracted to areas that provide easy access to food, shelter, and safety from their predators.

One of the primary reasons possums are attracted to human residences is the abundance of food sources. These creatures are opportunistic feeders, and their diet consists of carrion, insects, small mammals, fruits, and vegetables. They are also known to rummage through garbage cans, which provide easy access to leftovers.

Shelter is another key factor that attracts possums to homes. They prefer to make their nests in areas that provide cover from weather and predators. Possums often take up residence in structures like sheds, garages, and crawl spaces under houses. They also seek out natural hiding spots, such as wood piles or debris in yards.

The presence of predators in the area can lead to an increase in possum activity near urban homes. These marsupials face plenty of threats from larger animals, such as raccoons, coyotes, and birds of prey. Urban areas offer some protection from these predators, and possums are more likely to find safety in the vicinity of human settlements.

Possums hang around houses mainly due to the availability of food, shelter, and safety from predators. Their opportunistic nature and their capacity to adapt to various environments make them a common sight in urban areas throughout the United States. Maintaining a clean yard and properly securing garbage cans can help reduce the likelihood of possums taking residence around your home.

What brings possums to your yard?

Possums are commonly found in urban areas due to their versatile habitat preferences and ability to adapt to human environments. That’s why it is essential to understand what brings them there and how to prevent them.

First, possums are omnivorous, meaning they eat a wide variety of food sources. They are attracted to carrion, or the remains of dead animals, making them helpful in disposing of carcasses and controlling the spread of diseases. Additionally, possums are known to rummage through garbage cans and compost piles in search of food, which can lead to them becoming a nuisance in residential areas.

Another factor contributing to the presence of possums in your yard is the availability of shelter. Possums are nocturnal and prefer to hide in dark, secluded areas during the day, such as under decks, in hollow logs, or within piles of brush. Providing an ideal habitat for them will increase the chances of them taking up residence in your yard.

Furthermore, possums have few natural predators in urban settings, making it a safe environment for them to thrive. While they might face threats from larger wild animals in rural areas, city yards often provide ample protection from potential threats.

Finally, the proximity of your yard to areas with abundant vegetation, such as trees, bushes, and vines, is another determining factor in whether possums visit your property. These green spaces provide a highway for possums to navigate safely and can lead them straight to your yard.

Understanding what brings possums to your yard and addressing these factors can help prevent them from becoming an unwelcome guest. It’s essential to manage your garbage and compost, eliminate potential hiding spots, and minimize the access points for possums to enter your property.

How long will a possum stay in my yard?

A possum’s behavior largely depends on various factors such as food sources, weather, and the availability of shelter in a given area.

In general, possums do not remain in one location for extended periods. They are transient animals, usually staying only 2-3 days in the same den site before moving on to another location. 

However, they may keep your yard in their rotation of den sites if it provides a suitable hiding place for them during the day. A large, empty, overturned flowerpot with an opening facing a fence or an edifice can serve as a simple, makeshift den for a possum. Sometimes they might even sleep in a large pile of leaves.

One of the reasons possums keep moving is because they are constantly in search of food sources. If your yard or a nearby area has an abundance of these food sources, it may attract possums more frequently.

While they might not stay in your yard for long periods, possums can be beneficial to have around. They help control insect populations, feed on ticks and other pests, and assist in maintaining a balanced ecosystem.

However, if their presence becomes a nuisance or if you notice an injured or orphaned possum in your yard, it’s advised to contact a professional for assistance.

Are possums good or bad to have around?

One positive aspect of having possums around is their ability to control pests. As opportunistic omnivores, they consume insects, small rodents, slugs, snails, and beetles that can wreak havoc on gardens or landscapes. By keeping the populations of these pests in check, possums help reduce the need for harmful pesticides in your yard.

However, there are some drawbacks to having possums around your property. They produce waste, just like any other animal. While their fecal matter may contribute to your yard’s green growth, their urine can potentially damage the roots of your cultivated plants. It is also important to note that possums, being scavengers, might rummage through trash cans, causing a mess.

Despite their few negative traits, possums are not inherently dangerous animals. They tend to keep to themselves and rarely pose a threat to humans or pets. They also play an essential role in the ecosystem, as their presence helps control the populations of some harmful predators, such as ticks and other parasites.

Do possums keep rats away?

In their capacity as predators, possums consume a range of animals and plants, demonstrating their omnivorous nature. It is common for possums to kill rats and roaches within their territories, making them a natural and effective means of pest control.

Apart from being skilled hunters, possums also compete with rats and mice for food, further contributing to keeping their population in check. By depleting the food sources around homes and gardens, the presence of possums indirectly deters rats, mice, and other pests from infesting these areas.


While there are pros and cons to having possums around, their benefits to the ecosystem and their role as natural pest control agents outweigh the potential drawbacks. By understanding and appreciating the role of these remarkable marsupials in our environment, we can learn to coexist and appreciate their importance in maintaining a balanced ecosystem.

Will a possum bite you?

In general, possums are fairly docile animals and are unlikely to attack or bite humans. They tend to avoid confrontation and usually flee from potential predators. However, if they feel cornered or threatened, they might exhibit defensive behaviors such as baring their teeth or hissing. It’s important to note that these behaviors are not signs of aggression or intent to bite, but rather an attempt to ward off potential threats.

Although possums have 50 sharp teeth, they use them primarily for their omnivorous diet. Their teeth are not meant for engaging in fights or attacking humans. 

In fact, when threatened, possums often resort to a fascinating biological reaction where they enter an involuntary shock state and “play dead” due to stress from confrontation. This survival tactic helps them avoid any unnecessary conflict with predators.

Despite their seemingly passive nature, possums can still bite if they feel extremely threatened, and their bites might lead to infections if not treated properly. It’s important to remember that possum bites are rare, and the chances of them carrying rabies are very low due to their low body temperatures, which make them poor hosts for the virus.

What should you do if a possum is in your yard?

If you find an opossum in your yard, the first thing to remember is that despite being opportunistic omnivores, they typically pose no threat to humans, pets, or your property. They are not aggressive animals and would instead prefer to avoid conflict. 

To avoid attracting possums, make sure to secure your garbage cans properly, as they are often attracted to the scent of food waste. Also, do not leave pet food outside overnight, and be sure to clean up any fallen fruit from your trees. This will help to minimize the chance of encountering an opossum in your yard.

In cases where an opossum seems to have taken residence on your property, it is best to allow them to move on naturally. Most of the time, they will leave on their own within a few days. If the opossum is injured or appears to be an orphan (less than 7 inches from nose to rump), do not attempt to handle or remove the animal yourself. Instead, contact 855Bugs for assistance.

As predators, possums may keep smaller pests like snails, slugs, and insects at bay, which can be a benefit to your garden and overall property health. Embrace their presence as an opportunity to observe a unique creature that contributes positively to the environment.

Do lights keep possums away?

The use of lights can be an effective strategy to deter possums from certain areas. Installing motion-activated lights around the perimeter of your home or garden can startle these nocturnal animals and encourage them to move on to other areas. This is because possums prefer dark environments to navigate and find food, so bright lights can disorient and frighten them.

In addition to motion-activated lights, constant illumination in specific locations may also help to keep possums at bay. For example, if you have fruit trees or other vegetation that attract these marsupials, keeping the area well-lit during the night can make it less appealing for them to come and forage.

However, using lights alone may not be enough to prevent possums from entering your property entirely. They are adaptable creatures and can quickly adjust to different environments, including those with bright lights. Therefore, incorporating other methods such as scent deterrents and physical barriers can create a more robust defense against these opportunistic animals.

It’s essential to understand opossum behavior to effectively manage their presence on your property. Although lights can be useful in discouraging possums, a combined approach that takes into account their habits, needs, and preferences will yield the best results. Ensuring that your property is clean, free of food sources, and well-lit can make it less enticing for possums to visit and settle in.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the typical size of an opossum?

Opossums vary in size, depending on the species. The average adult Virginia opossum weighs between 4 and 12 pounds and measures around 24 to 40 inches in length, including their tail. They are the size of a domestic house cat.

What is the scientific name of the Virginia opossum?

The scientific name for the Virginia opossum is Didelphis virginiana. It is the only marsupial native to North America, meaning they carry their young in a pouch.

Can possums be kept as pets?

While possums are fascinating creatures, it is generally not recommended to keep them as pets. They are wild animals, and their natural behaviors might not align with a household setting. Additionally, their specialized diet and healthcare needs may be difficult to replicate. In some places, permits or licenses might be necessary to keep an opossum as a pet, and it’s essential to check local regulations for more information.

What is the natural habitat of possums?

Possums prefer living in diverse environments, including wooded areas, near water sources, and even near human settlements. They are highly adaptable creatures and can thrive in urban and suburban settings, making their homes in brush piles, under decks or sheds, or in hollow tree trunks.


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