Opossums are small to medium-sized mammals who have the distinction of being North America's only native marsupials. After a very brief gestation, baby opossums spend the first two to three months of their lives in a pouch on the mother's body where they nurse and grow. When they're ready, they'll climb out of the mother's pouch and onto her back, and shortly thereafter will begin exploring the world on their own. They typically are weaned at about three to four months of age, leave their mothers at four to five months of age, and reach reproductive maturity at about six or seven months of age.
The only opossum specie native to Tennessee and all of the United States is the Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana). They can vary widely in size and weight, with adults ranging from about a foot to about three feet from the nose to the base of the tail, and weighing in at weights ranging from less than two pounds to ten pounds, or sometimes even more. They have prehensile tails, white faces, rounded black or brown ears, pointy snouts, and elongated jaws.
Opossums are solitary, nomadic wildlife by nature. They're also very adaptable animals who can survive in a wide variety of environments. Being arboreal by nature, they are excellent climbers who are often found in attics and chimneys. But they're also comfortable living in crawl spaces, garages, sheds, or even burrows abandoned by other animals.
Opossums' diets are also very flexible. They're omnivores who will eat pretty much anything, dead or alive. They also have remarkably strong immune systems and almost never get sick. They are immune to most diseases, including rabies. Paradoxically, however, they also suffer from rapid senescence. A possum who manages not to get run over -- they have poor eyesight and can't see cars coming until it's too late to get out of the way -- will die of old age at about two years of age.
The tendency of opossums to simulate death when threatened is perhaps what they're most famous for. If snarling and hissing don't scare their enemy away, they go into an involuntary fainting-like state that simulates death, complete with a foul odor they secrete from their rear ends. The smell and the appearance of death are enough to make predators lose their appetites and interest.
Unlike humans who "play possum" by feigning sleep, opossums aren't really playing. The death-like state they go into isn't voluntary. It's an involuntary response triggered by fear, and is very similar to the possum being in a coma. Its heart rate and respiration slow dramatically and they are incapable of moving, but research by wildlife biologists suggests that they remain conscious and aware the whole time.
Opossums can be found in literally any part of a house. Because they're excellent climbers, they often get into attics and chimneys; but they're just as common in basements, crawl spaces, and garages. They may tear at shingles, soffit panels, or siding to get in; or they may take advantage of construction gaps or damage done by other animals such as raccoons.
Once they get into a home, opossums can cause additional damage, especially if they're females in need of nesting materials. They're notorious for tearing insulation and damaging flexible HVAC ducts. They also contaminate the spaces where they're living with urine, feces, and shed parasites and can quickly impart a foul odor to these spaces. When they get into attics, it's almost always necessary to tear up and replace the insulation to get rid of the odor and restore the attic to a healthy state.
Because opossums are protected by law and are not considered "pests," control is accomplished by live trapping and relocation, followed by correction of whatever structural problems allowed them to get into the house in the first place. No poisons or kill traps are used. The opossums are trapped and released unharmed, using safe, humane, non-chemical methods; and then the house is sealed up as necessary to keep the opossums (and other wildlife) out to prevent new possum problems.
Here are some randomly-selected pictures of opossum-control work we've done in Tennessee and elsewhere.
Opossum removed from a garage in Chattanooga
Opossum removed from an attic in Chattanooga
Opossum made a mess in an attic in Chattanooga
Opossum droppings in an attic in Chattanooga
How opossums got into a Chattanooga home
Opossum in an attic in East Brainerd
Tim with a young opossum removed from a home
Opossum removed from a house in Signal Mountain
Baby opossum was removed from under a dishwasher
Opossum waiting to be humanely relocated
Baby opossums found at a possum-removal job
Young opossum removed from a home
Opossum entry point at a house in Chattanooga
Baby opossum on the hood of Chris's truck
Opossum entry into a house in Jasper
Three young opossums awaiting relocation
Opossum entry point in a house in Chattanooga
Do-it-yourself opossum-proofing fail
How possums got into a crawl space in East Ridge
Opossum damage to insulation in Chattanooga
Opossums waiting to be relocated
Opossum entry hole into a house in Chattanooga
Opossum hole in a soffit in Dunlap
Angry opossum awaiting relocation
Please contact us to learn more about opossum removal and exclusion in the Chattanooga, Tennessee metropolitan area.