Opossums are medium-sized animals with thick fur that some people describe as looking like they were made from parts left over from other animals. They're frequently encountered as nuisance animals in Augusta and throughout Georgia.
Possums' faces are predominantly white in color, but their bodies are mixes of grey, black, and sometimes brown. Their legs are usually black, but their paws are often lighter-colored and faintly resemble human hands and feet except for the sharp claws. Their tails are almost hairless and look like those of rats, their jaws resemble those of dogs, and their ears those of raccoons.
Opossums also have the distinction of being North America's only native marsupials, or "pouched" mammals. Baby opossums complete their development in a pouch on their mothers' body called the marsupium, where they are kept warm and protected while nursing. Eventually they poke their heads out and start exploring their surroundings, often riding around on their mothers' backs as she goes about her opossum business.
Opossums are short-lived animals. Even assuming ideal situations, they usually don't live more than two or three years at the most. It's not that they're disease-prone. On the contrary, their resistance to disease is so extraordinary that scientists have been studying them for generations trying to figure out what makes them so healthy. They just age very quickly.
In the real, less-than-ideal world, opossums' life spans are even further shortened by their natural limitations. They're relatively slow-moving animals who can't easily evade predators. They're not especially good fighters. They also have poor vision and can't see cars that are about to run them over until it's too late for them to do anything about it. Dead possums line highways like mile markers throughout rural America.
Despite all these limitations, opossums thrive as a species because perhaps more so than any other animal, they know how to take lemons and make lemonade. They can adapt to almost any situation and make the best of it.
By nature, for example, opossums are tree-dwellers. They have excellent balance, prehensile tails, and sharp claws that are well-adapted for climbing. But they're just as happy taking up residence in caves, abandoned animal burrows, basements, crawl spaces, attics, outhouses, or that old Chevy that's been rusting away in the woods behind your house since 1973. You know, the one you're going to restore some day. That Chevy.
This willingness to live pretty much anywhere is why we find possums living pretty much anywhere. Most animals' living preferences are strong enough that we can pretty much predict where we'll find them. But not an opossum's. We find them in every part of a house from the top to the bottom. We find them in attics, soffits, wall and ceiling voids, garages, basements, and crawl spaces. There's just no telling where in your house an opossum will decide to set up housekeeping.
Opossum's also will eat pretty much anything. They're omnivores by nature, and those living in close proximity to humans have adapted to eating our leftovers and garbage. Our leftovers are like a buffet to an opossum. This is a good reason to put out the garbage in animal-resistant trash cans. One of the few useful things that opossums do is eat small rodents; but they're essentially lazy and won't bother hunting if you're going to go and feed them every night.
In summary, the possum's willingness to adapt to pretty much any sort of environmental condition is why opossums continue to thrive despite their short life spans, slowness, poor vision, and traffic fatalities. They don't spend a lot of time obsessing about how bad things are. They just adapt and make the best of whatever life throws at them.
Opossums are also well-known for their peculiar habit of "playing dead" when they're attacked or threatened. But it's really not playing. The opossum doesn't make a conscious decision to play dead, and it's not something that they can control. It's an involuntary response that's something more similar to human feinting than an intentional act on the opossum's part.
In addition, when possums, well, play possum, there's a lot more going on than their laying down. Their bodies freeze in state that mimics death in every way. They even give off a foul odor that smells like rotten flesh. In fact, it's probably this odor that protects them most. Like humans, most carnivorous wild animals will not eat rotten meat, so the opossum suddenly becomes decidedly unappealing to them. Scent is super-sense for most animals, and the opossum's odor overwhelms the predator's knowledge that the animal was alive just a few seconds earlier. It smells rotten, so the predator walks away to find a meal elsewhere.
After a period of time that may range from a few minutes to more than an hour, the opossum emerges from the death-like state and goes on with life as if nothing has happened.
Aside from being odd-looking, opossums are disliked because of the mess they make when they get into a home. They don't gnaw, but they do scratch; and with those sharp, strong claws, they can do a lot of damage. They pull away insulation, puncture heating and air-conditioning ducts, and damage stored items. They also pee and poop everywhere. They really do make a mess.
Like other woodland critters, opossums also harbor parasites, some of which can spread human diseases. Their biggest health threat, however, is to horses. Opossums are the obligate, definitive host of the Sarcocystis neurona parasite that is the causative agent of Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM), a degenerative, often-fatal neurological disease of horses and other equines.
It's also suspected, but not definitively known, that opossums can harbor rabies and possibly other diseases. Their strong immune systems may make it possible for them to carry diseases that would be harmful or fatal to other animals, without being sickened themselves.
In many cases, opossums get into a house, garage, barn, or other building simply by walking through an open door. In those cases, we simply remove the opossum by hand or using a snare and take it elsewhere. All that's necessary on the customer's part is to keep the doors closed if you don't want possums to get in.
In other cases, opossums get into homes through various structural gaps. Because they're tree-dwellers by nature, these gaps can be anywhere in a home, literally from the top to the bottom. Not being very picky about where they live, we often find them in attics, soffits, crawl spaces, and even wall and ceiling voids. In these cases, we have to trap and remove the animal using the method best suited for the situation, and then seal them out as we would other nuisance animals.
Here are a few pictures of possum removal work we've done. Please contact us if you would like more information about our opossum-removal services.
Baby opossums found at a possum-removal job
Angry opossum awaiting relocation
Tim with a young opossum removed from a home
Three young opossums awaiting relocation
Young opossum removed from a home
Opossum waiting to be humanely relocated
Baby opossum on the hood of Chris's truck
Opossums are found throughout Georgia
Opossum removed from a Martinez GA home
Baby opossum was removed from under a dishwasher
Young possum hiding in a roof in Augusta