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Are Possums Actually Dangerous?

Are Possums Actually Dangerous?

They’re hideous to some people while others call them cute and cuddly, but are possums dangerous?

These wild creatures seem to coexist pretty comfortably among us. But we’ll take a closer look to find out whether we should embrace them or keep our distance.

Let’s dig in!

Are Possums Actually Dangerous? In Short: No

Those sharp little teeth are a bit scary, and possums look kind of mean. You might have heard that they can spread some nasty diseases, too. Well, it turns out that they may have a bad reputation they don’t really deserve.

You don’t actually have much to fear from possums.

Here’s why.

Do Possums Carry Dangerous Diseases? 

Some animals, including skunks, raccoons, and even dogs, carry rabies. It’s an infectious virus that animals spread through bites.

It’s extremely rare with possums, however. Biologists believe that’s because they have a lower body temperature than most other mammals. So it’s a myth that possums are dangerous because they carry rabies.

Will Possums Attack You? 

Possums do sometimes strike an aggressive pose, but this doesn’t mean they’re dangerous.

They do this only when they feel threatened. If they “blow up” like this, it doesn’t mean they’re going to hurt you — it’s simply their defense mechanism.

If they’re really frightened, they might even play dead. This is where the phrase “playing possum” comes from.

Woman ranger holding possum.
Possums might look cute, but you shouldn’t go close to them.

What to Do if You See a Possum

There’s no reason to panic if you encounter a possum, but don’t pick one up, either. They scare off pretty easily, so they’ll usually take off running if you give them a chance. You may just want to relax and enjoy observing them.

After all, they’re probably not causing any harm. They’re like just enjoying some free food, whether it’s pet food or scraps from your dinner.

Possums Are Actually Beneficial

Possums like a lot of the things we don’t. This is one of their many positive traits and a big reason to keep them around. You may actually want to put out a welcome mat for possums once you realize all the good things they do.

Here are a few.

Lyme Disease Prevention: Possums Eat Dangerous Ticks

You know to watch out for ticks when you’re exploring the outdoors because tick bites can lead to Lyme disease. But you might not know that possums are on your side. Using their long, slender snouts, possums suck up ticks like a vacuum cleaner.

They eat them by the thousands as they’re walking through the woods.

Pro Tip: If possums don’t scare you, bears might! Read more to find out Can (And Will) A Bear Break Into Your RV?

Possum hunting for food.
Possums are great for eating pests you don’t want at your campsite.

Pests Begone: They Eat Roaches, Rats, and Mice

Besides ticks, a possum’s varied diet includes cockroaches and rodents. They aren’t picky. They’ll eat just about anything they can manage.

Possums Eat Roadkill

Dead animals are sometimes part of their diet, too. Researchers believe the bones of animal carcasses are an important source of calcium for possums.  

Possums Help Protect Gardens from Dangerous Critters

Possums can be a big help with gardening. They act as a natural pesticide by snacking on snails, slugs, and other pests that would otherwise make a meal of your plants.

Their own tastes run toward fruit that’s overripe, so they can help with gleaning, too. This means getting rid of rotten fruit, so it doesn’t attract insects or lead to fungus.

Possum in leaves.
Possums are North America’s only marsupial!

Possum Fun Fact: They’re North America’s Only Marsupial

Mammals are animals with fur that are warm-blooded and have their babies through live birth, not eggs. A particular kind of mammal, the marsupial, has another feature, as well — a natural pouch to carry its young.

There are more than 300 different kinds of marsupials worldwide, but only one in North America, and it’s the possum. 

Pro Tip: Possums aren’t dangerous, but what about moose? Read more to discover Are Moose Dangerous When You’re Camping?

Possum Myth: They Don’t Hang by Their Tails

This is another exaggeration. Their tails do help with balancing, and young possums may hang briefly when they’re learning to climb trees.

However, in general, possums don’t hang by their tails.

Woman holding possum.
Possums aren’t dangerous, but you should still avoid them.

Possums Aren’t Dangerous, But They Do Have Disadvantages

Are possums dangerous? No. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take some general precautions. Let’s look at a couple.

They Carry Fleas

We mentioned that possums eat a ton of fleas, but they also tend to carry around some. The same goes for lice. So even though possums have a lot going for them, they definitely can bring other unwanted pests into your environment.

They’re Opportunistic Shelter Seekers

Rather than building their own homes, possums often take over living spaces that other animals have vacated. We’re talking places like burrows in the ground, tree stumps, hollow logs, and brush piles.

They’re not too picky when it comes to shelter, as long as the place is warm, dry, and somewhat concealed. Unfortunately, they may decide to take up quarters in your garage or under your house or porch.

Should You Kill Possums? 

After weighing all their pros and cons, you may decide you’d rather just not have possums in your life. That’s certainly understandable, but there’s no need to go to extremes. We prefer the live-and-let-live approach.

You can use a trap to relocate possums to a more remote area. They’re territorial, so experts recommend taking them at least five miles away, so they don’t return.

Possums are a nuisance when they get into your food or trash, but calling them dangerous is a stretch. For the most part, they’re gentle and peaceful and don’t want any trouble.

We won’t say they’re completely harmless, but they don’t pose a major threat.

Have you ever seen a possum?

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