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Possums in Australia: Why Are They a Problem?

A closeup shot of a possum with its mouth open looking forward sitting behind the grass

If you live in Australia, you’ve probably noticed an increasing number of possums around. There are 23 different possum species in the country, and they’ve become more common in both natural forests and urban areas. But why are these furry marsupials seen as pests?

Urban Invasion: While possums are typically found in forests, they’ve started moving into residential neighbourhoods. Possums are territorial creatures that mark their turf by excreting body oils and urine. They’re not particularly aggressive, but they can become defensive if they feel trapped.

As they venture into urban areas, possums often raid people’s gardens, making a meal out of plants, bird eggs, grubs, and insects. They’re primarily active at night, foraging for food from dusk until dawn.


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A young Common Brushtail Possum with its mother in a tree in Western Australia.

Why Possums In Australia Are Problems

Adapting to City Life

Possums have adapted to urban living and can be found in garages, sheds, chimneys, roofs, and attics. Despite being solitary creatures, they come together during breeding seasons, which can start as early as one year of age for some species.

The increasing presence of possums in urban areas has raised concerns, as they can be a nuisance in people’s homes and gardens. Preventing them from becoming pests around your house can be a challenge.

Irritating Noise

Possums use various methods to communicate with each other, such as screeches, hisses, clicks, coughs, chatters, and grunts. They’re quite vocal in their interactions which causes irritation to people living around the area. In some cases, when they are walking on the roof, people feel like someone is in the house. Some people admitted thinking their house was haunted, a feeling that was triggered by night-time noises coming from hidden spaces.

Destruction and Unpleasant Odors

When possums move into homes, they tend to wreak havoc. The smell from their droppings and urine can be overwhelming, and the extent of the damage can be astonishing. This often upsets homeowners as the property can be severely affected. Possums can even chew on electrical wiring, leading to costly damage in a short period. If you spot possums around your home, address the issue promptly to prevent it from becoming a major problem.

Garden Havoc

Possums have a reputation for causing extensive damage in gardens. Being herbivores, they have a taste for ferns, flowers, fruit, leaves, eucalyptus, snails, moths, and even baby birds. They particularly love fresh plant growth and are drawn to backyard gardens, where they’ll devour nearly everything, including mangoes, carrots, melons, roses, camellias, wattle, and wisteria. They also relish grapes, apples, bananas, cucumbers, broccoli, tomatoes, lettuce, and corn.

Offensive Odours

Possums mark their territory by spraying urine, emitting a strong and unpleasant odour. This scent can be quite overpowering and disagreeable to humans. Additionally, possums have scent glands that release a pungent aroma, which humans find repulsive. If you suspect possums are residing on your property, you’ll soon notice the strong and unmistakable smell.

Lack of Natural Population Control

While some natural factors like bushfires, vegetation loss, and the presence of dingoes can help control possum populations, the reality is that these creatures have thrived in their environment, both in their natural habitat and urban areas. In some cases, possums were introduced to places like New Zealand for the fur trade, resulting in an unchecked population explosion that continues to grow.

Possums and Health Concerns

Possums themselves don’t typically carry life-threatening diseases, but they can harbour parasites, ticks, mites, and certain bacterial infections that can be passed on to other animals and even humans. Possum droppings may contain Buruli bacteria, which can cause significant skin ulcers in people. If you accidentally come into contact with possum droppings, remove them from the area immediately and thoroughly wash your hands.

What Can You Do?

Dealing with a possum issue can be costly if you hire a professional pest control company. A more practical approach is to handle the problem yourself. However, it’s crucial to understand that possums are a protected species in Australia, and killing them is not an option. Instead, you can use live traps to attract them with bait and then relocate them to a different area. Keep in mind that you may need a permit to move possums. Alternatively, you can take preventive measures to deter possums from making your home their residence in the first place.

  1. Remove Food Sources: Eliminate all potential food sources, even if it means removing decorative plants and vegetable gardens. Possums will also raid pet food, so bring pet food and dishes indoors and only feed your pets outside during the day when possums are less active.
  2. Bird Feeders: Clean up spilt birdseed from feeders each night, as it can attract possums.
  3. Composting: Store compost in sealed bins designed for composting to prevent possum access.
  4. Fruit Trees: Promptly pick ripe fruit from fruit trees and remove any that falls to the ground.
  5. Block Access: Seal off areas where possums are known to enter. Trim trees and bushes so they don’t touch your home. Remove clutter, such as unused garden pots and containers, which can serve as nesting spots. Ensure your barbecue cover doesn’t create a hiding spot, and enclose your deck with plastic screens or mesh to keep critters out.
  6. Deterrents: Use deterrents like motion-activated lights, loud music near nesting areas, mothballs, garlic spray, and surface spikes to make your home less appealing to possums. Preventing possums from moving in is more effective than trying to remove them once they’ve established a presence.

Final Thoughts

Possums in Australia can be a bit of a headache, causing property damage and some health concerns. Although they’re not dangerous in terms of deadly diseases, they can pass on parasites and bacterial infections. Handling their droppings can lead to skin issues.

If you’re facing a possum issue, remember they’re protected in Australia, so you can’t harm them. Instead, consider using live traps with the necessary permits. But, also remember that it’s easier to keep possums away than to deal with them once they’ve moved in.

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