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Pesky Visitors or Fascinating Creatures? Demystifying Possums in Your Attic

Title: Identifying and Understanding Possums in the Attic: A Comprehensive GuideImagine hearing strange noises coming from your attic and discovering a furry creature has made its home there. Determining whether the creature is a possum or some other furry intruder can be quite a challenge.

In this article, we will explore the distinguishing features between possums and opossums. Additionally, we will delve into the characteristics of possum droppings, providing you with essential knowledge for effectively identifying these elusive creatures.

1) Differentiating Possums and Opossums:

When discussing possums, it is important to note that the term “possum” is commonly used interchangeably to describe both possums and opossums. However, it is crucial to understand that possums and opossums belong to distinct species.

Opossums are uniquely found in the Americas, while true possums are indigenous to Australia. 1.1) American Opossums:

The American opossum, or simply opossum, is the North American marsupial that shares some similarities with possums.

However, there are noticeable differences. Opossums have a whitish-gray appearance, sharp teeth, and a bare, elongated tail which acts as a prehensile appendage.

Their distinctive feature is the ability to “play dead” when threatened, a behavior known as “playing possum.”

1.2) Uniquely Australian Possums:

In Australia, possums are incredibly diverse and come in various species. The most common species found in urban areas are the brushtail possum and the ringtail possum.

To identify whether you have possums in your attic, examining their droppings can provide crucial clues. 2) Identifying Possum Droppings:

Possum droppings, also known as feces or scat, can give valuable insights into the type of possum living in your attic.

2.1) Brushtail Possum Droppings:

Brushtail possum droppings are cylindrical in shape and can have a length of approximately 1.2 to 2 centimeters. They are often dark brown or black in color, portraying a slightly twisted appearance.

Due to their diet consisting of leaves, buds, fruits, and flowers, their droppings are typically fibrous and textured. 2.2) Ringtail Possum Droppings:

Ringtail possum droppings are pellet-like in appearance, similar to the shape of small beans.

They are highly distinguishable due to their size, measuring around 1 to 1.5 centimeters in length. The droppings often possess a greenish coloration, which is a result of the possum’s consumption of leaves and occasional fruits.

The texture of these droppings is comparatively smoother compared to brushtail possum droppings. Conclusion:

Understanding how to identify possums and their droppings is essential for effective pest management and conservation efforts.

By differentiating between possums and opossums, you can better identify the specific species inhabiting your attic. Additionally, by observing the characteristics of possum droppings, such as their size, color, shape, and texture, you can gain valuable insights into the species of possum present.

Armed with this knowledge, you can take the necessary steps to resolve any pest or wildlife issues while ensuring the well-being of these fascinating creatures.

Smell and Defensive Behaviors

Smell of Possum Droppings

Possum droppings, aside from their appearance, can also have a distinct smell. This odor differs between the two common species found in attics: the ringtail possum and the brushtail possum.

3.1.1) Ringtail Possum Droppings:

When fresh, ringtail possum droppings generally have a mild aroma. The smell is often described as musky or earthy, similar to that of dried leaves.

However, as they age, the odor can become more pungent and slightly sour due to the decomposition process. This smell can linger in attics, making it easier to detect their presence.

3.1.2) Brushtail Possum Droppings:

Brushtail possum droppings, on the other hand, emit a stronger and more musky scent, especially in their fresh state. This scent is often influenced by their preferred diet of leaves, fruits, and flowers.

The high fiber content in their diet can contribute to an earthy, plant-like odor. Additionally, brushtail possums may mark their territory by urinating on their droppings, intensifying the smell further.

Defensiveness of Possums

While possums may seem like unwelcome guests in your attic, their defensive behaviors are often misunderstood. It is important to know how they mark their territory and differentiate between aggression and non-aggressive actions.

3.2.1) Territorial Marking:

Possums are territorial creatures and use various methods to communicate and mark their territory. One common way they do this is through urination.

They will often urinate on their droppings, tree trunks, and other surfaces as a way to leave scent marks for other possums, signaling ownership of an area. This behavior is a crucial aspect of their social structure and communication within the species.

3.2.2) Gland Rubbing:

Possums also have scent glands located on their chest and belly, which they use for marking territory. When they find a suitable spot, they will rub these glands against the surface, leaving their scent behind.

This behavior is a non-aggressive way of communicating with other possums and establishing boundaries. 3.2.3) Non-Aggressive Nature:

Despite their territorial behaviors, possums are generally non-aggressive and timid in nature.

They are more likely to try and escape or hide when confronted with a potential threat. If they feel threatened, their natural instinct is to rely on their camouflage abilities or “play dead” by lying still and pretending to be lifeless.

This behavior, known as “playing possum,” can be mistaken for aggression but is actually a defense mechanism.

Dangers of Possum Droppings

Leptospirosis and Other Infections

While possums themselves are not directly dangerous, their droppings can carry certain diseases, particularly if proper hygiene measures are not followed. 4.1.1) Leptospirosis:

One of the potential dangers associated with possum droppings is leptospirosis, a zoonotic illness caused by the Leptospira bacteria.

If humans come into contact with contaminated droppings, they may contract this bacterial infection. Symptoms of leptospirosis may include flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle aches, and vomiting.

Without proper treatment, it can lead to complications affecting the kidneys, liver, and respiratory system.

Other Diseases and Hygiene

Possum droppings can also harbor other pathogens and parasites, highlighting the importance of proper hygiene practices when dealing with them. 4.2.1) Coccidiosis:

Possum droppings can contain the parasite responsible for coccidiosis, a parasitic infection that can affect humans and other animals.

The parasite, called coccidia, often causes gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea, stomach cramps, and nausea. It is crucial to practice proper hand hygiene and avoid coming into direct contact with contaminated droppings to prevent the spread of infection.

4.2.2) Buruli Bacteria and Tuberculosis:

Possum droppings can also contain the bacteria Mycobacterium ulcerans, which can cause Buruli ulcer, a chronic skin infection. Additionally, tuberculosis bacteria can be present in possum droppings, although the risk of transmission to humans is relatively low.

Maintaining good hygiene, such as wearing gloves and washing hands thoroughly, helps minimize the risk of exposure. 4.2.3) Mites, Ticks, and Other Parasites:

Possum droppings can attract mites, ticks, and other parasites.

These pests can transmit diseases to humans and other animals. It is crucial to handle possum droppings with caution, wear protective clothing, and promptly dispose of the waste to minimize the risk of infestation.


Understanding the smell and defensive behaviors of possums can help homeowners identify their presence in attics accurately. By recognizing the differences in smell between ringtail possum and brushtail possum droppings, individuals can gain insights into the specific species inhabiting their homes.

Additionally, comprehending the territorial marking and non-aggressive nature of possums contributes to humane and informed pest management practices. Furthermore, recognizing the potential risks associated with possum droppings highlights the importance of proper hygiene measures to prevent the spread of infections and diseases.

Possums’ Diet

Omnivorous Diet

Possums are remarkable creatures when it comes to their dietary habits. They are classified as omnivores, meaning they have a diverse diet that includes both animal and plant matter.

This omnivorous nature allows possums to adapt and thrive in various environments. 5.1.1) Insects and Small Animals:

Possums have the ability to capture and consume small animals, particularly insects, as part of their diet.

Beetles, spiders, snails, and even small reptiles and birds are among the prey that possums may target. Insect hunting provides a valuable source of protein and nutrients for their survival.

5.1.2) Eggs and Carrion:

Possums are opportunistic feeders and will not hesitate to scavenge on eggs or carrion when the opportunity arises. They may raid bird nests and consume the eggs, providing them with a rich source of protein.

Additionally, they will occasionally feast on carcasses of animals that they come across, utilizing the available resources around them. 5.1.3) Plant Matter:

While possums exhibit some carnivorous tendencies, the majority of their diet consists of plant matter.

They are highly adaptable and can consume a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, leaves, and flowers. The consumption of plant matter provides them with vital carbohydrates, fiber, and other nutrients.

Preferred Food and Native Plants

Possums have certain preferred foods that they actively seek out, showing a particular fondness for certain fruits and native plant species. 5.2.1) Fruits:

Fruits are a significant component of a possum’s diet, and they have a particular liking for sweet fruits.

Apples, pears, grapes, and bananas are among the fruits that possums will readily consume when available. These fruits provide a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and energy for their daily needs.

5.2.2) Native Plants:

Possums also have a strong affinity for native plants, feeding on a range of native tree species. Species such as wattle (Acacia) and various eucalyptus trees are commonly sought after by possums.

The leaves, flowers, and nectar of these plants are highly nutritious and play a vital role in their overall diet. In turn, possums contribute to the pollination and seed dispersal of these native plants, assisting in the regeneration of the ecosystem.

5.2.3) Consumption Patterns:

Possums are known to be selective in their feeding patterns. They may focus on specific food sources based on availability and seasonal changes.

For example, during spring, possums will heavily rely on the new growth and blossoms of native plants, enjoying the abundance of food. In contrast, during the dry season, when food resources may be scarce, possums may resort to consuming a wider variety of foods to meet their nutritional needs.

5.2.4) Human Interaction:

In urban areas, possums may venture into gardens and yards in search of food. This can lead to conflicts, as possums may consume garden produce, such as herbs and vegetables.

Installing physical barriers or providing alternative food sources can help mitigate these issues and encourage coexistence with these native creatures. Possums’ diverse and adaptable diet plays a crucial role in their survival and ability to thrive in various habitats.

Their omnivorous nature allows them to take advantage of available resources, making them highly resilient. By understanding their preferred foods and the significance of native plants in their diet, we can appreciate the ecological role possums play in maintaining the balance of our ecosystems.

In conclusion, understanding possums and their behaviors is essential for effective pest management and conservation efforts. By differentiating between possums and opossums and identifying their droppings, homeowners can accurately determine the species inhabiting their attics.

Recognizing the distinct smell and defensive behaviors of possums can foster coexistence and humane practices. Additionally, the dangers associated with possum droppings highlight the importance of proper hygiene and the potential risks for disease transmission.

Lastly, comprehending the omnivorous diet of possums and their preference for certain foods and native plants contributes to our understanding of their ecological role. Through education and responsible practices, we can ensure the well-being of possums while maintaining a harmonious balance with nature.

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