Opossums are medium-sized, primarily nocturnal animals that are common throughout Georgia and most of the United States. They have an unusual set of body characteristics. Their jaws resembles those of canines, their tails are rat-like (although also prehensile), their ears resemble those of a raccoon, and their paw prints look a lot like miniature human hand and foot prints. They also have opposable "thumbs," but they're on their hind feet. So all in all, they're pretty odd-looking animals.
In addition to their rather unique appearance, opossums are also unique in being the only marsupials native to North America. Like kangaroos, koalas, wallabies and wombats, female opossums carry and nurse their young in a pouch on their bodies called a marsupium for a period of time between the babies' birth and when they're ready for the outside world.
Opossums are among the most adaptable of all animals. They're arboreal by nature and therefore have good climbing skills, but they're also comfortable on the ground. They'll live in caves, hollow trees, and pretty much anywhere else -- including garages, crawl spaces, barns, and other buildings. We even come across them in attics once in a while.
Opossums aren't too picky about what they eat, either. They're basically opportunistic scavengers, which is another reason why they're attracted to human-occupied areas. Because they'll eat pretty much any sort of food, the garbage discarded by humans are like a buffet for opossums. As with most nuisance animals, keeping garbage securely stored can help discourage opossum problems. Opossums can also hunt when need be and consume a fair number of rodents.
One thing opossums are famous for is their habit of "playing dead" when they're threatened or attacked. This is more than play-acting for an opossum, however. It seems to be more like fainting. Their faces become frozen in a snarl and they emit a foul-smelling odor that simulates the smell of rancid, spoiled meat, and discourages predators from feeding on the opossum.
Opossums may also defend themselves in more direct ways, however. They are capable of delivering a nasty bite, so they shouldn't be handled by anyone except professional animal handlers.
Opossums are considered a nuisance mainly because they eat agricultural and garden crops. They also make a mess when they get into garbage pails or dumpsters and are capable of transmitting a number of diseases. Equine Protozoal Myeloencephaliti is one of the more serious diseases carried by opossums. It's a serious disease that affects horses, making opossums especially unwelcome around stables.
Another place you don't want opossums is in your home. They often manage to get in to places like crawl spaces, basements, and garages, and sometimes even make it up into attics. Obviously, once they get into a home, they must be removed. Both the mess they make and the health risk from the diseases that the opossums and their parasites can transmit make that a no-brainer.
Speaking of disease, we should also mention that opossums have remarkably strong immune systems. They have high resistance or immunity to many diseases, including rabies; but they are still capable of acting as a reservoir for and/or transmitting those diseases, usually while showing no symptoms of being sick because they themselves have not been affected.
Opossum control consists of trapping and removing the possum, cleaning up after it (including sanitation and replacing contaminated insulation, if needed), and sealing up the house against re-entry by opossums or other nuisance animals.
This last part is known as exclusion, and will help keep your home animal-free in general, not just against opossums. Sometimes it's not needed, however. If a house is already well-sealed against animals, but an opossum happens to waltz in through an open door, we can simply remove the possum and take it away. It all depends on the situation.
Here are a few pictures of opossum removal work we've done in and around the Macon area. Stay tuned for more!