The Possum: A cute but challenging animal to live with
The Possum is a mammal that is native to Australia, New Guinea, and Sulawesi. There are many species but the one most common in our area is the brushtail possum. They are nocturnal so many people are unaware of them except for hearing the spooky sounds they make, the crashing noises on the roof at night and finding parts of their vegetable garden have disappeared.
They make a sound that is truly spooky as this Youtube video by tomstorey shows.
They often become quite game, some say they can become tame but I’m not too sure of that. They are fun to watch but can drive a home owner or gardener to despair. And oh, they are a protected species in Australia.
Over the years there have been quite a few living around our yard. Our house started life as a weatherboard house but was later given a brick veneer. Bricklayers simply built a layer of bricks on a concrete footing up around the house. This process left a gap between the weatherboards and the bricks. When we moved in there was no door protecting access under the house. This provided easy access for possums but this wasn’t obvious to us until one day my wife said, “Why is the kitchen light on…. It seems to be very dim. Look there is water running out of it.” Heading up into the ceiling we discovered a possum had knocked the top of the header tank for the hot water system which fell into the tank leaving it sitting at an angle and holding the float down. Water was spraying out onto the ceiling and draining down through the kitchen light. The culprit was asleep on top of the warm hot water system. It took us a while to figure out how it got up there and from then on we knew these things could be a problem.
Since then we have secured the house fairly well and we have lived in relative harmony, but they have continued to make themselves known. One learned to use the cat door and just after sunset each night would head in through the cat door to have a look around. We thought we had it locked out but found that it was sleeping up above the wall oven in the kitchen.
We collect rain water from our roof that is stored in a couple of tanks that is used for drinking and washing. So it was not pleasing to see a possum sleeping in the main junction box that connects the guttering from the two sections of the roof.
Another managed to get trapped in our shed one night. We didn’t immediately notice the possum but the trail of destruction was obvious as was the urine. I found the possum and being oblivious to the dangers of trying to handle one, I put on large welder’s gloves and tried to pick it up. Eventually I grabbed it by the tail. They can hang by their tail and I knew this wouldn’t harm it. What I didn’t know was that they can swing around and climb up your arm. We both got away with minor injuries and the most painful part for me was the tetnus injection that afterwards.
I have since learned that they are territorial, so we formed a plan to build a few houses for them. Those that moved into a house should keep newcomers at bay.
In practice this has only been partially successful. While they may be territorial, either their territory is quite small or they are willing to overcome their preference for space and live close to one another to be near food. Also, it automatically guarantees that there will always be some around constantly trying to attack the vegetable garden. The simplest solution we have found to protect the garden is a floppy fence that is difficult for them to climb.
We have usually had three possum houses at any given time in our yard and surprisingly three times we have had a swarm of bees take over a house when it was temporarily vacant.
Last year they must have had a good breeding season and we ended up with a couple of youngsters looking for a home. One decided that our wood heater was the place to sleep – after all from there he could peer out through the glass and watch TV.
To get in, it has to go up onto the roof, climb up over 1.5m of the outside of the chimney to get to the top, squeeze under the chimney hat and then descend 6m of 15cm diameter vertical tube into the heater. Fortunately it has decided to move out so we can light our fire on cold nights.