There’s no question that possums are persistent pests. They burrow into houses and sheds, snack on gardens, and overturn trash cans. From dusk to dawn each night, they come out to hunt and forage and generally cause headaches for homeowners. For farmers, however, possums pose other potential problems. These pesky marsupials are omnivores that eat a wide variety of foods. This prompts the question: do possums eat chickens or other small animals? Read on to find out the answers to these and other questions!
What Is a Possum?
A possum is a type of mammal called a marsupial. The term “possum” broadly refers to both possums and opossums. However, though they are related, they are also distinct. “Possum” technically refers to the species of marsupials in Australia and the surrounding islands. “Opossum” refers to species of marsupials in the Americas. The most famous of these species is the Virginia opossum, the only marsupial inhabiting North America. It roams as far north as Canada.
Possums live both on the continent of Australia and on islands like the Solomon Islands, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Tasmania. Opossums live in North, Central, and South America; they migrated north long ago from the warmer, southern climes.
Possums and opossums appear similar to each other, though individual species differ in size. The smallest species are only a few inches long, while the larger species may grow as large as the average housecat. Most possums and opossums are black, brown, grey, or white.
Do Possums Eat Chickens or Other Small Animals?
Unfortunately, possums do eat chickens and other small animals. Despite misconceptions that paint them as herbivores, both possums and opossums are omnivorous, consuming both plant and animal matter. Though they generally prefer food sources that don’t fight back, they do occasionally go after animals of various kinds.
Chickens are an obvious food source for possums and opossums living near humans. As one of the most common farm animals, chickens are ubiquitous throughout both Australasia and the Americas. Being small and fairly defenseless, they make easy targets. However, most possums and opossums don’t wait for them to grow up. Instead, they seek out eggs and chicks. Food scraps from chicken coops and barnyards may also serve to attract them.
Chickens aren’t the only animals to fall prey to possums and opossums. These marsupials also hunt birds and rodents like rats, mice, and voles. They even eat snakes when they can get them! Many opossums are notoriously immune to rattlesnake and pit viper venom. Their ability to scale virtually any tree also means they can access bird nests with eggs high above the ground. When they can catch them, they’re not above eating the birds themselves.
Though the Virginia opossum usually comes to mind for these kinds of crimes, Australia’s possums share the blame. The brushtail possum is responsible for the decline of certain rare species of birds in Australasia like the South Island kokako. Another species, the adorable sugar glider, preys on various species of parrots.
What Else Do Possums Eat?
Possums and opossums enjoy a varied diet. Their digestive systems are capable of processing and digesting many different kinds of food, including carrion. Besides this, their sense of taste is very minimal, meaning they can tolerate foods that would turn off most other animals.
Insects are a major part of the possum and opossum diet. Despite their reputation as nuisances, these marsupials actually provide a measure of free pest control. Their ability to consume disease-carrying ticks without incurring harm to themselves is legendary. They also eat insects like grasshoppers, cockroaches, and beetles.
Besides all this, possums and opossums consume a large amount of plant matter. Leaves, grasses, flowers, and fruits all provide vegetarian sources of nutrition. Avid gardeners may find that their garden patches have fallen victim to these furtive marsupials.
What Eats Possums?
Possums and opossums fall prey to a number of predators in their natural environments. Surprisingly, pet dogs and cats pose significant risks to marsupials wandering around human dwellings. The size difference is enough to give domesticated dogs and cats the advantage. In Australia, wild dogs (dingoes) hunt possums in various habitats.
Other common predators include wolves, coyotes, bobcats, and foxes. Some birds of prey, like owls and large hawks, can incapacitate possums, especially joeys. Snakes also pose a threat, though some opossum species are immune to venom.
Though possums are protected in Australia, some people still hunt them. In the United States, hunters can kill opossums in restricted seasons. Meals made with opossum meat are classics in some parts of America, especially the South. In Central and South America, many people eat opossums as a cheap source of meat.
How To Keep Possums Away
Given that possums and opossums frequently make a nuisance of themselves, it’s worth investing in preventative measures. In Australia, it is illegal to remove a possum from one’s property without a special permit. This is because possums come under the protection of the government. Homeowners wishing to remove a possum can either obtain the permit or contact a licensed relocator to take care of the problem.
There are a number of things people can do to prevent possums or opossums from coming around in the first place. The first is to close any gaps that allow ingress into houses or sheds. As a general rule, if a possum can fit its head in the gap, the rest of its body will fit too. The second preventative measure is to keep a dog or cat. Large pets are potential predators and should discourage possums from taking up residence around the home.
The third way to keep possums and opossums away involves using their least favorite scents against them. Blood meal repellant is a great way to discourage possums from entering a garden without harming the plants. Other repelling scents include garlic and ammonia. For a complete list, see this guide.
Though possums do eat chickens and other small animals, they prefer to eat insects or plant matter when possible. With certain preventative measures in place, it should be possible to deter possums from coming around your property and causing damage.
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