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Are Opossums Dangerous?

opossum side profile

Opossums, commonly found in North and South America, are generally not considered dangerous to humans. In fact, they are known for their non-aggressive nature and are more likely to play dead (feigning death) or hiss and show their teeth when they feel threatened. Opossums are opportunistic omnivores, primarily feeding on insects, small animals, fruits, and vegetation. They are beneficial to the environment as they help control insect populations and even consume carrion, helping to clean up the environment.

With that being said, there are some considerations to keep in mind:

Disease Transmission:

Opossums can potentially transmit several diseases to humans, although the risk of transmission is relatively low. These diseases may be contracted through contact with an opossum or its excrement. Here are some of the diseases associated with opossums:

  • Leptospirosis: Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that can be transmitted to humans through contact with opossum urine or contaminated water or soil. Symptoms can range from mild flu-like symptoms to severe cases involving kidney and liver damage.
  • Ticks and Fleas: Opossums can carry ticks and fleas, which may transmit diseases to humans. Examples include Lyme disease from ticks and various types of flea-borne illnesses.
  • Rabies: While opossums can carry the rabies virus, it is rare for them to transmit it to humans. Opossums have a lower body temperature than many mammals, making them less suitable hosts for the virus. However, it is still essential to exercise caution around any wild animal, especially if it is behaving abnormally.
  • Ectoparasites: Opossums can harbor a variety of ectoparasites like mites and lice, which may infest their fur. While these parasites are more likely to affect the opossum itself, there is a minor risk of them infesting humans if there is direct contact.

The risk of disease transmission from opossums to humans is relatively low, and most people do not encounter opossums in a way that would lead to such transmission. Practicing good hygiene and avoiding direct contact with opossums, their feces, or urine can further reduce any potential health risks. If you have concerns about diseases associated with opossums, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional.

Defensive Behaviors:

Opossums are typically non-aggressive animals, and their primary defensive behaviors when they feel threatened or confronted by humans or pets are more focused on self-preservation rather than causing harm. Some of the defensive behaviors that opossums may exhibit include:

  • Hissing: Opossums often hiss when they feel threatened. This is a vocalization intended to scare away potential threats and is a sign that the opossum is distressed.
  • Playing Dead (Tonic Immobility): Opossums are known for their unique ability to "play dead" when confronted by predators or perceived threats. They may fall limp, excrete a foul-smelling fluid from their anal glands, and go limp as if lifeless. This behavior is involuntary and typically occurs when the opossum is overwhelmed or frightened.
  • Showing Teeth: Opossums may open their mouths and show their teeth as a warning sign. This is another way to communicate that they are not comfortable with the situation and may bite if further provoked.
  • Biting (Rare): While opossums are not aggressive by nature, they may resort to biting as a last-ditch effort to defend themselves if they feel cornered and unable to escape. This is a relatively rare occurrence.

Opossums are more inclined to avoid confrontations rather than engage in aggressive behaviors. They are primarily opportunistic scavengers and are not considered a threat to humans or pets. If you encounter an opossum in your yard or vicinity, it's best to give them space and allow them to move away on their own. Trying to handle or provoke them is not advisable, as it may lead to stress for the opossum and potential defensive reactions.

Learn more: Do Opossums Bite?

Property Damage:

Opossums are generally not known for causing significant property damage, but there are some minor issues that they can potentially contribute to, including:

  • Gardens and Landscaping: Opossums are omnivores and may dig in gardens and lawns in search of insects, earthworms, or plant roots. They can uproot small plants and damage flower beds.
  • Garbage Can Raids: Opossums are opportunistic feeders and may scavenge in trash cans and compost bins, creating a mess in your yard or around your home. They have a strong sense of smell and can detect food scraps.
  • Chewing and Gnawing: Opossums may occasionally gnaw on items like wooden decks or outdoor structures, particularly if they are attracted to the scent of food.
  • Animal Feed: If you have pets or livestock, opossums might attempt to access animal feed stored outdoors. This can lead to contamination and loss of feed.

The property damage caused by opossums is generally minor compared to some other wildlife species. Opossums are more likely to be attracted to easily accessible food sources than to intentionally damage property. To deter opossums from your property, consider securing trash cans, removing food sources, and using fencing or barriers to protect your gardens and compost bins. If you are experiencing persistent issues with opossums, you may want to consult with local wildlife control experts for humane and effective solutions.

Opossums are not considered dangerous to humans and are more likely to be beneficial for pest control. If you encounter one, it's best to observe from a distance and avoid any direct interaction to ensure both your safety and the well-being of the opossum.