Opossums, or just possums, or a common sight throughout much of the United States, and is the most well-known and commonly encountered marsupial in North America.
Like raccoons, these intelligent animals are known for raiding trash cans and hanging out around human habitation, and more famously known for their defensive behavior of feigning death.
Whenever a possum decides to play dead, you can get a pretty good look at their teeth, which are very substantial. It makes you wonder, are possums dangerous?
No, possums are not dangerous. Even though they can bite, they’re only likely to when truly cornered or captured, and greatly prefer to escape or play dead when confronted.
Possums might hiss and put on a frightening display when threatened, but you’ll rarely if ever have anything to worry about concerning them attacking you.
You can learn more about possum behavior and their interactions with humans in the rest of this article.
Understanding Opossum Behavior
Possums are often considered to be pests, but they are actually beneficial and interesting creatures.
These marsupials are nocturnal, meaning they are most active at night though they are regularly spotted during the day, too.
Wherever and whenever you spot a possum in the wild, you’ll likely see it foraging for food.
Possums are omnivorous, which means they will eat just about anything. Possums are curious and adventurous eaters, and are routinely spotted poking around in garbage cans or raiding bird feeders.
They are especially fond of fruits and vegetables, but they will also eat small mammals, birds, reptiles, seeds, nuts- and carrion!
These animals have a well-earned reputation as scavengers, and will often clean up roadkill or other corpses that they come across.
Possums are also notably excellent climbers, and they frequently build their nests in trees or scale fences when moving around.
One common and starling sight is that of a mother possum moseying down a path or scampering across a rooftop with her back laden with babies! Her young will cling to her back until weaning.
Possums are generally solitary creatures, but they are known to congregate in large groups when there is an abundance of food, and many will sometimes share a den.
Although they are not aggressive animals, possums will sometimes defend themselves if they feel threatened.
They will hiss and bare their teeth if approached, and sometimes will even (infamously) play dead to deter predators. If you encounter a possum in the wild or around your home, it’s best to give it some space and admire it from a distance.
Are Opossums Aggressive Toward Humans?
No. Possums will rarely display any true aggression, and much prefer escape or hiding to fighting, even when pestered.
Have Opossums Ever Attacked Humans?
Yes, but the occurrence is extremely rare. In most recorded cases it is because the possum was being handled or had been cornered.
How Do Opossums Attack?
Possums attack by biting. Those sharp teeth work just as well on live flesh as they do on dead! Their nails are too small and possums too weak to be of any real danger to people.
Possums can also “attack” by playing possum; feigning death. When they do this, they fall over onto their sides, often with their mouths open and saliva drooling out.
Their eyes will be half open or all the way open and they will enter a sort of stiffness akin to rigor mortis.
This whole charade will even be accompanied by the smell of death in the form of a nasty discharge from the anal glands.
Though possums have no conscious control over this behavior, they will remain in this state until whatever perceived threat has passed.
What Causes Opossum Aggression?
Though possums might look ferocious with all the hissing and baring of fangs, they rarely bite unless handled or truly cornered, and even then they are just as likely to play dead.
If you corner a possum, try to pick it up or threaten its young it might bite you, the same as any other animal would.
But unprovoked attacks on humans are vanishingly rare, so there’s nothing to worry about if you see a possum poking around your home or out in the wild.
Do Opossums Eat People?
No, not really. Not a live person, anyway. Possums will not attack humans to eat them, but they sure might nibble on a corpse if they come across one.
This willingness to sample dead flesh is what has associated possums with their unsavory reputation.
Are Opossums Territorial?
No, not toward people, though they might get touchy if another possum that they don’t like encroaches on their personal space, food source or den.
But when it comes to humans, these animals are content to share space and will leave us alone.
How Strong is an Opossum?
Not very, certainly not compared to a human. Possums can display some impressive strength and endurance for their size- it is not uncommon to see a mom hauling a dozen babies on her back straight up a tree!- but they are no threat whatsoever to people outside of biting.
On that note, a possum could deliver a pretty nasty bite is pressed, one that would probably require medical attention so don’t push it!
What Should You Do if You See an Opossum?
Nothing. You can shoo it away if it is breaking into your trash or your chicken coop, but other than that you don’t need to do anything about them. Possums are nearly harmless, and more often than not they will be gone in the morning.
If you have a possum living under your porch or in your attic and would like it to go away, your best bet is to wait until nighttime when it is out foraging and then seal up the entrance to its den.
Once the possum is blocked out, it will seek out a new place to live and leave you alone; possums rarely expend much energy digging, improving or breaking into a den!
These creatures are more likely to be scared of us than we are of them, and will usually go out of their way to avoid an encounter.
So, if you see a possum, don’t be alarmed, and definitely don’t try to handle it.
What Should You Do if Attacked by an Opossum?
Chances are if you are being “attacked” by a possum that it is you who are the one doing the attacking in the encounter: unprovoked bites are super rare.
Nonetheless, if you do find yourself in a scrap with a possum just run away. They won’t chase you, and they aren’t very fast.
If you cannot get away, fend off the possum with a stick or some other tool with a little reach. Keep the possum away so that it cannot bite you, and eventually it will give up and leave.
On the remote, remote, chance you are locked in combat with a possum, a sharp blow to the head or body should be enough to dispatch it. They are not very big and not particularly tough.
Do Opossums Carry Diseases People Can Catch?
Contrary to one popular notion, possums rarely carry or transmit the rabies virus, although they can.
They also carry a variety of other diseases that can be transmitted to humans through close contact. Some examples include salmonella, leptospirosis, spotted fevers and toxoplasma.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that can cause liver and kidney damage in humans. It is usually transmitted through contact with water or soil that has been contaminated by possum urine.
Spotted fevers and toxoplasma are both parasitic infections that can cause flu-like symptoms in humans. These diseases are usually transmitted through contact with possum feces.
These diseases can make people very ill, and in some cases even lead to death, so it is important not to handle possums or otherwise come into close contact with them.
You can avoid these diseases by simply using common sense and avoiding contact with possums whenever possible. If you must handle one (living, dead, or playing dead), be sure to wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.