In the animal kingdom, communication is vital to survival. Animals do not have the complex vocal repertoire as humans do, so they must find other ways to interact with one another. Opossums use a small number of body signals, but most of their communication is through vocalizations.
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.
Some animals use chemical signals called pheromones, and others use body language, much like dogs and cats. Let’s look at how opossums communicate.
Are opossums dangerous? Find out the truth here
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 possum refers to different animals.
Opossums are nocturnal animals, so they are most active at night. They typically spend the daytime resting in tree hollows away from populated areas. They often venture into towns at night to scavenge through rubbish for leftover food.
Unfortunately, opossums play dead as a defense against predators, leading people to believe they are dead. Many opossums that were alive and healthy have been buried in people’s yards as the person has assumed they are dead.
Are opossums good to have around your house? The answer might surprise you.
What Sounds Do Opossums Make?
|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 Attic?
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.
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, as opossums typically feed at night.
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.
Do Opossums Make Noise During Breeding?
Opossums are noisiest during the breeding season, and if you live near opossums, you will know when the breeding season has arrived.
When opossums are searching for a mate, they make loud clicking noises. Males and females follow the sounds of the clicks to find a mate.
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 come out of the pouch, and the mother will carry the babies on her back.
Do you know how opossums survive winter? Find out here
Do Opossums Growl and Screech?
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 the other animal off.
Predators, including foxes, often leave when they hear the opossum growl. I’ve had an opossum growl at me, which was quite intimidating for such a small animal.
If this does not work, opossums will hiss or even 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.
Ever wondered why opossums play dead? Find out in this article I wrote
What Sounds Do Baby Opossums Make?
Mothers sometimes get separated from their young with so many to look after. One or two may fall off her back or be unable to keep up with her during nighttime foraging.
Joeys call to their mothers using a choo sound that sounds like a sneeze. As opossums can mate twice yearly, hearing young opossums is common yearlong. 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.
Do you know if opossums can swim? Find out here
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 can be 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 also 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.
The average lifespan of an opossum is just over a year. Find out why here.
References and Further Reading
University of Toledo – Audiogram of the Virginia opossum
Researchgate – What every veterinarian needs to know about Virginia opossums
MSstate – Mammals of Mississippi