Opossums use a small number of body signals, but most of their communication is through vocalizations. Knowing what an opossum sounds like is key to knowing if they are in your house.
The Virginia opossum makes a hissing sound or a low growl when threatened or angry and a clicking sound to attract the attention of its young. Young opossums often make a sneezing sound. Opossums are usually silent, so there is often more than one if you hear them in your house.
Opossums can be pests and you need to know if they are in your house as soon as possible. This guide will help you understand if you have opossums in your house, and what their sounds mean.
What Are Opossums?
The opossum is the common name for a group of marsupial mammals across North and South America. There are over 100 known species of opossum. They are often called possums instead of opossums, but a possum is a different animal.
Opossums are nocturnal animals, so they are most active and heard at night. They typically spend the daytime resting, and while most live away from populated areas, many make their homes in attics or under people homes. They can often be seen around urban areas at night to scavenge through rubbish for leftover food.
What Sounds Do Opossums Make?
Opossums communicate through a variety of vocalizations, each serving a distinct purpose. When they feel threatened, they emit hissing and growling sounds as defensive warnings. During the breeding season, screeching is employed, typically in interactions between two males vying for a mate.
Young opossums use a “choo” sound to capture their mother’s attention, ensuring maternal care. On the other hand, mothers employ clicking sounds to communicate with their offspring, guiding and alerting them to various situations.
These diverse vocalizations enable opossums to navigate their social interactions, express threats, attract potential mates, and ensure the well-being of their young.
|Screeching||Used in breeding seasons between two males|
|Choo||Made by the young to get their mothers attention|
|Clicking||Used by the mother to get the attention of their young|
How Do You Know If You Have Opossums In Your House?
Knowing if opossums are present in your attic can be difficult to determine. An opossum’s natural behavior is not to make too much noise, but some telling clues reveal their presence. Opossums are nocturnal and can often be heard during the night.
One way to identify if opossums have been camping out in the attic is to listen closely for the sound of shuffling and movements associated with opossums during nighttime. Opossums are nocturnal and can often be heard during the night.
Hissing, growling, screeching, and clicking noises are all signs that there could be an opossum in your house.
If you spot droppings around your home’s exterior, this could indicate opossums in or near your attic. If you find evidence of opossums in your attic, it is best practice to call a pest management professional for safe removal.
If you do not want to contact a professional, there are some other ways to remove them from your house.
How To Get Rid Of Opossums
- Identify Attractants: Opossums are often attracted to food sources. Ensure that garbage cans are securely closed, and don’t leave pet food outside. Also, remove fallen fruits from trees and secure compost bins.
- Fencing: Install a sturdy fence around your property. A fence at least 4 feet tall with an outward-facing overhang of about a foot can deter opossums from climbing over.
- Repellents: There are various natural and commercial repellents available. These may include predator urine, ammonia-soaked rags, or motion-activated lights or sprinklers. However, the effectiveness of repellents can vary.
- Exclusion: Seal off any entry points or hiding places in your home or shed where opossums might seek shelter.
- Live Traps: Live traps can be effective in capturing opossums. Once caught, you can release them far away from your property. Be sure to check local regulations about trapping and relocating wildlife, as it may require a permit.
- Professional Wildlife Removal: If you’re unsure about handling opossums or if you have a persistent problem, consider hiring a professional wildlife removal service. They can safely remove opossums and provide guidance on prevention.
- Natural Predators: Encourage the presence of natural opossum predators, such as owls, hawks, and certain snakes, in your area. This can help keep the opossum population in check.
- Keep Yard Clean: Regularly clean up your yard, removing any debris or items that could provide shelter for opossums.
Do Opossums Make Noise During Breeding?
Opossums are noisiest during the breeding season, and if you live near opossums, you will often be able to tell when the breeding season has arrived.
Breeding season for opossums typically occurs during late winter to early spring. During this time, male opossums, known as boars, may emit a variety of sounds to attract females, establish dominance, and communicate with potential mates.
Some of the sounds you may hear at night include:
- Clicking or chattering: Male opossums may make clicking or chattering sounds, often as a way of attracting females or communicating with other males.
- Hissing: When competing for a female’s attention or defending their territory, males may hiss at each other. This hissing sound is meant to establish dominance.
- Mating calls: Male opossums may emit distinctive mating calls to signal their readiness to mate. These calls can vary from grunts to higher-pitched sounds.
- Aggressive vocalizations: During mating encounters or territorial disputes, opossums can produce aggressive vocalizations like growls or snarls.
Opossums can reproduce twice yearly, but most females only give birth to one litter per year. Since opossums are solitary, the male has no input in rearing the young.
A female can give birth to as many as 20 young, but the average is between 4 and 10. Opossums are tiny at birth, around the size of a bean. They are born after a gestation of around 11-14 days and move straight into the mother’s pouch.
They latch on to a teat in the pouch, continuing to grow. After a month, they are big enough to leave the pouch, and will be carried by the mother on her back.
Why Do Opossums Screech Or Growl?
When opossums feel threatened or agitated, they have two distinct vocalizations. The first is a loud growl that sounds similar to a pig snort. This is used as the initial communication to warn other animals off.
Opossums have many predators, and the growl can often scare them away. I’ve had an opossum growl at me, which was quite intimidating for such a small animal.
If growling does not work, opossums will hiss or screech. The ear-piercing screech is often heard during the breeding season when two males come across one another or a male tries to mate with a female who is already pregnant.
It is common to hear these noises at night, especially in populated areas near woodland where opossums live or if they have invaded your home.
What Sounds Do Baby Opossums Make?
Because opossums can have litters of up to 20, the female sometimes get separated from their young. One or two may fall off her back or be unable to keep up with her pace while foraging.
The young call to their mothers using a choo sound that sounds like a sneeze. As opossums mate twice yearly, hearing young opossums is common all year. While most females will only mate once per year, many find a mate to breed twice annually to raise two litters within 12 months.
Young opossums may hiss at their siblings when fighting over the best spot on their mother’s back, but they are typically quiet compared to adult opossums.
Opossums vs. Possum
There is often a debate over the proper name for these two animal species. The answer is that they are two distinct species. Opossums are native to North and South America and are the only native marsupial in the Americas. Possums are endemic to Australia and are not found anywhere else.
Opossums have a face and bodies similar to a ferret. They have a broad head, large ears, and a long snout that narrows toward the nose. Opossums have whiskers all over their face, including along the snout, on the cheeks, and above the eyes.
Their body is long and slender, with short legs compared to their bodies and long rat-like tail. The fur ranges from pure white to pale grey, slate grey, and black, with white fur on their faces and stomachs.
Australian possums have rounded faces, shorter snouts, fewer whiskers, and ears more like a rabbit. Possums are generally much larger than their American cousins. Some possum species can be as small as three or more inches, while others are larger than a house cat.
Possums are greyish brown with cream-yellow fur on the lower portions of the face and down the chest, stomach, and back of the legs. Some possums have a silver-grey coat like a chinchilla, and black fur is also possible. Possums have bushy tails, unlike the hairless tails of American opossums.
Both species are nocturnal, omnivorous, and marsupials. They both inhabit similar environments, preferring woodland with nearby water sources. However, they are adaptive animals and are commonly seen scavenging through human bins or feeding off roadkill.
References and Further Reading
Opossums: Amazing Pictures and Facts About Opossums by Breanne Sartori
A children’s book filled with fascinating facts and vivid pictures of opossums, making it an engaging and educational read.
The Opossum: Its Amazing Story by William J. Krause
This comprehensive book delves deep into the opossum’s natural history, behavior, and adaptations to its environment, offering a thorough understanding of these creatures.
Opossums (Early Bird Nature Books) by Andrienne Soutter-Perrot
Designed for young readers, this book introduces opossums and their unique characteristics, making it an ideal choice for kids curious about wildlife.
The Opossum: Its Life, Natural History, and Behavior by W. J. Hamilton Jr.
A detailed exploration of opossum biology, habits, and their role in ecosystems, providing valuable insights into these remarkable marsupials.
North American Opossums: Biology and Behavior by Marina Fisher
This scientific work covers the biology and behavior of North American opossums, offering a comprehensive look at their ecology and evolution.
University of Toledo – Audiogram of the Virginia opossum
Researchgate – What every veterinarian needs to know about Virginia opossums
MSstate – Mammals of Mississippi
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.