Opossums: neighbor or nuisance?

One Jonesboro neighborhood seems to have an opossum problem
Published: Apr. 22, 2022 at 5:25 AM CDT
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - It’s spring, and that means wild animals are out with their babies; but should you be worried about seeing some of these animals in your neighborhood?

Marjie Playter has lived in her Jonesboro neighborhood for 15 years. She said they always see a lot of opossums in their area.

“It seems like we’re having it in the neighborhood a lot. And some people hate them, some people love them, but it’s their world too,” said Playter.

Last year at their house alone, Playter said five opossums were trapped and released.

“They’re really scary looking. I mean honestly the ones we caged, the way they hissed, they’re just not pretty. They’re not pretty animals at all,” said Playter.

Her neighbor Sherry Lindley has also seen several opossums recently. Her dog Bella even found one in her garden.

“I went over there and looked and it was a baby opossum. And it had its mouth open and just really having a fit, lots of teeth. And my concern was her [Bella] getting to it,” said Lindley. “A few days before we saw a bigger opossum running across the back fence here, on top of it. So I’m afraid there’s probably a little family living under the fence.”

While they do look scary, Arkansas Wildlife Rehabilitator Nanci Hill said opossums are more scared of people than people are of them.

“They’re very sweet, docile creatures. They are not known to attack,” said Hill. “If they feel extremely threatened it actually works the other way. Their body temperature is low anyway, but their heart rate will drop when they’re extremely scared and usually they will just fall over.”

Right now, opossums are out looking for food, even in neighborhoods in the city.

“If there’s an abundance of a food supply that’s where you’re going to see them. Just like any other wildlife creature.”

While they’re not the cutest wild animals, opossums can be helpful little neighbors, eating a lot of the pests people don’t like.

“They’re going to eat more bugs. Bugs and grubs, worms, they do eat a lot of smaller rodents. Mice and moles,” said Hill. “Things that are decaying in the yard that are producing a lot of bacteria. Things that you do not want in your yard, opossums are going to actually clean that up. So that’s what makes them so beneficial to the area.”

Snakes and ticks are also staples in the opossum diet.

Despite the benefits though, residents understand not every neighbor is a fan of the marsupial.

“I do know that not everybody likes them at all. I mean there are concerns with your pets, there are also concerns that they do spread some diseases,” said Playter.

Arkansas Wildlife Rehabilitator Pam Bledsoe said opossums aren’t likely to harm pets or people.

“Not unless they get really cornered are they even going to try to bite. They’re going to run away, they’re going to hide, they’re going to hiss. They’re going to make a lot of noise, they’ll even growl but they will not attack,” said Bledsoe.

Both rehabilitators said opossums have a lower core body temperature, which makes them less likely than other animals to carry diseases like rabies or distemper.

Hill believes a lot of the dislike for opossums comes from their less cuddly appearance, but said they are a very beneficial wild animal to have around.

“If people would just live and let live, they are so good for our system. But I do think that’s such a bad rap that they get,” said Hill.

While Hill understands they can be a nuisance in residential areas, she said if you can leave opossums alone and they’ll go away on their own time.

“This time of season if you see an opossum it is generally on the move. It is just foraging for food, usually trying to feed babies,” said Hill. “Unfortunately if mom gets spooked or scared, a lot of time these little babies will fall off and she will not go back for them.”

Hill said she typically gets 20 calls a week during the spring to help rehome or capture animals like opossums.

If you find baby opossums or other wild animals that need care, it’s best to contact a wildlife rehabilitator. Rehabilitators go through training and certification to learn how to properly care for these animals.

If you have opossums in your area that you want removed, Hill said it’s best to contact a nuisance animal removal company.

You can find a wildlife rehabilitator by visiting the Arkansas Game and Fish website here.

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