If you see an opossum ransacking your trash cans, the next logical thought is to wonder whether or not this creature poses any danger to your family or your pets.
After all, what if they carry diseases?
Will they bite?
What if they scratch?
For all you know, this creepy, growling scavenger might lunge forward and attack you!
If these questions ring a bell, keep reading. We've got the answers to these and more!
So, Are Opossum's Dangerous To Humans?
Generally speaking, the opossum is a nocturnal animal which avoids interaction with humans.
In order to scare off predators, though, the opossum will pull out all the stops and employ its own biological defenses.
What's That Sound?
When it feels as though it's under duress, an opossum will begin to growl or hiss at its attacker, baring its teeth.
This strikes some people as a precursor to a violent attack, as though the opossum is preparing to pounce or strike. Usually, this hissing and growling is nothing more than a bluff; as these animals are much more afraid of people than people are of them.
Do You Smell That?
As an additional deterrent, opossums have evolved to slip into a seemingly catatonic state.
In this sort of fugue state, the opossums drool as though they're rabid and secrete a green fluid from their anal glands. This fluid has a repulsive smell, and will drive away predators and humans alike with just one sniff.
Most of the time, an opossum's interaction with a human is one of a very muted nature—in an effort to hinder an interaction with the predator, the opossum will simply play dead.
The opossum can drop its heartbeat for a period of a few minutes to a maximum of two hours in order to give the predator enough time to lose interest. During this charade, the opossum's body is limp and its tongue hangs out of its mouth, giving every outward impression that it truly is dead.
After the predator leaves, the opossum springs back to life and flees the scene.
Will An Opossum Attack Pets?
Based on the facts listed above about the introverted nature of the opossum, it's unlikely that one of these creatures will pounce on you or your pet.
However, it's not outside the realm of possibility to wonder about whether these opportunistic feeders will take a bite out of your arm if given the chance!
Are Opossum Bites Dangerous or Harmful?
As noted above, opossums are famously non-confrontational. They would much rather wheeze and drool in their fugue state or "play 'possum" than get into a fight with an offender.
However, when faced with an attacker, it's not impossible for opossums to bite in self-defense. More often than not, opossums get into fights with pets or other small animals in the yard and end up using their row of sharp teeth to their advantage. However, this only happens when the opossum feels as though it was cornered into an unavoidable fight.
Again, this is used only as a last resort. To see just how passive these animals are (even when cornered), check out the video below.
Are Opossum Scratches Dangerous?
Due to the fact that opossums' nail beds are easily ripped out, it's highly unlikely that they will scratch a predator at all—even in self-defense.
Their hands are very delicate, so their reflexive action wouldn't be to scratch when they're scared or alarmed. This is why they have evolved to act so strangely in the face of danger: by slipping into their crazed, catatonic state, opossums can protect their fragile hands while scaring away predators.
The Most Common Risk Associated with Opossums
While opossums don't usually carry rabies, they can carry and transmit bacterial diseases. The most common disease associated with opossums is leptospirosis, but several others can be transmitted by these animals as well via waste excretion in the area where they live.
How can you protect yourself from these diseases?
- Practice proper hygiene after handling garbage and yard work
- Make sure your trash containers are always sealed and the area is well-kept
- Wash your produce thoroughly, particularly if it's home-grown
- Wear protective clothing when working outdoors, especially gloves and thick socks
- Be sure to always maintain proper hygiene for your pets
Final Thoughts About The Danger Of Opossums
When an opossum bares its teeth and hisses at you, it's normal to wonder what's coming up next. However, now you'll be much more prepared for the next time this happens—instead of running for the hills, you know now that this is all part of its biological impulse to survive.
Unless an opossum is directly attacked, it won't bite you. These are peaceful, solitary creatures that enjoy a quiet life, so the chances that you'll ever face danger at the hands (or paws) of an opossum are slim to none.
Other Opossum Guides
Curious about other opossum articles? Check out our other detailed guides to help you deal with your pest problems.