Even in the middle of the biggest cities in Australia, you are likely to find a possum. Ringtail or Brushtail possums are among the most adaptable and versatile of our marsupials and live much of their lives over our heads — many in suburban gardens. At night they emerge to search for food — through treetops, over rooftops and along fences and powerlines to avoid being hit by a car or attacked by a dog.

However, while possums are usually wary of people and do us little harm, they can make nuisances of themselves by eating flowers and fruit from our gardens, and in the case of the Brushtail Possum, taking up residence in the ceiling space of our homes. So if you suspect you have a possum in your roof, here is a handy guide to gently moving them along.

Table of contents

  1. How do I stop possums running across my roof?
  2. How do I remove a possum from my roof?
  3. How can I deter a possum from returning to my roof?
  4. Can I trap a possum myself?
  5. How do I know it’s a possum in my roof?
  6. How do possums get in my roof?
  7. What damage can possums cause?
  8. Why do possums live in roof cavities?
  9. What types of possums are there in Queensland?

How do I stop possums running across my roof?

Possums typically will only be on your roof regularly for three reasons. They are living on your roof, in your roof or using your roof to get from A to B. In terms of how to stop possums running on a roof, it can be tricky as you can’t stop them from walking across power lines, and then they will most likely use overhanging trees to access your roof, so the solution is to cut back trees away from the roofline.

Another issue is decorative lattice features and deck posts which possums can use to climb up and down off your roof. In this case, consider putting some plastic or smooth metal around these so that they can’t grip and climb up or down these features.

How do I remove a possum from my roof?

In terms of how to get rid of possums in a roof, there are several options, but vital to all of them is denying possums access to your roof space and identifying the entry point and exit points.

A simple way to find out whether an opening in the roof cavity of your home is being used by a possum is to loosely scrunch up a few sheets of newspaper and push them into any holes you find. If a possum is using it as an entry point, it will push them out of the way when it emerges at dusk. However, the process may need to be repeated even after a possum has been removed and an entrance sealed off as they may be using a number of entry points.

Once you’ve determined any entry points, you need to seal them to stop the possum from re-entering. This can be done with solid sheeting, timber or strong mesh, however, chicken wire is not recommended because if a possum is determined to get back in, they can quite easily pull off the wire with their strong claws.

If you are sealing entry points with wire mesh, you can initially attach it on one side of the opening and hold it open with crumpled newspaper. This will allow the possum to push it open as it leaves, but the paper will be pushed out, and the mesh will spring back into place, stopping it from re-entering.

Once you are confident that the possum is out of the roof, you can seal off the other side of the mesh to block the entrance. You should also trim back any vegetation overhanging the roof at the same time to remove access to other possible entry points.

What if this doesn’t solve the problem?

Possums are protected wildlife, and their removal can only be carried out by licensed commercial possum relocators. So if the above method hasn’t worked, you will need to call on professional help. However, having a possum removed is not necessarily a “quick fix”. If the vacated den site is not sealed off properly, it will simply be reoccupied.

Relocators usually block off any access points, then set a cage trap in the ceiling to remove the possum from the roof and release it outside. Relocators in Queensland must release possums within 25 metres of the point of capture to ensure that an animal is not released into another possum’s home range. Possums are less likely to survive if they are released into a new area where they do not have access to a den, have to compete with a neighbouring possum for den space and food, or are likely to be attacked by dogs.

Once you have engaged a possum relocator, it’s also worth asking them to install a nesting box so that the possum has safe, alternative shelter when they are released (more on that below).

How can I deter a possum from returning to my roof?

Electronic devices

Possums like to sleep in the dark, so placing a light in the roof cavity and keeping it switched on for several days and nights may stop them from returning. There are also motion activated ultrasonic devices available that are triggered once a possum crosses the sensor, which may frighten possums away. Some of these devices will also emit a high pitched sound that is above the human range of hearing but is definitely not comfortable for possums!

Strong smelling substances

Splashing disinfectant or spraying quassia chip solution around the sealed-off entrance will mask the possum’s scent and may discourage a possum from trying to get back in. Possums also tend to dislike smells like garlic, mothballs and ammonia. Another DIY tip is to soak an old stocking in liquid seaweed and hang it in the yard or near fruit trees or your veggie garden — possums hate the smell!

Food sources

Possums are attracted to homes where food is easy to obtain, so removing food sources can make your property less appealing. Make sure lids on garbage bins are tightly shut, keep your BBQ clean, and feed your pets indoors if possible, and clean up leftover food and water once your pet has been fed.

If you have fruit trees, pick up fruit that has dropped or try to avoid the fruit dropping using netting. If you like to feed native birds, avoid scattering birdseed in the late afternoon. Do it late morning or mid-afternoon, or use bird feeders and then move them inside at dusk. .

Never intentionally provide food for possums. Possums fed by humans will gradually lose their fear of humans and may become aggressive if food is not provided.

Alternative shelter

Brushtail Possums will only survive if they have a den. Without one, they are exposed to a range of daytime threats, including attacks from crows and other birds and the risk of aggressive encounters with other possums when they try to invade den sites that are already occupied. Consider providing an alternative home for possums by either buying or building a possum box.

Securely fix it to a tree, and place it high enough from the ground so that the possum will be out of reach of domestic dogs and cats (at least four metres off the ground). Placing some fruit — like pears, apples or grapes — near the box may encourage a possum to investigate its new home as possums are naturally inquisitive and like to explore their territory.

Can I trap a possum myself?

Possums are protected by state legislation (Nature Conservation Act 1992), and it is illegal to trap and relocate them unless you have a permit to do so.

If you are granted a permit, many councils have wire mesh possum traps you can rent. Put the trap in the roof cavity near the possum’s access point and check it every morning. If you catch a possum, you must release it within 24 hours, it must be at night, and released within 25 metres of where it was found – releasing it in an area less than this is illegal in Queensland.

Trap requirements

  • A cage trap must be designed to avoid injury.
  • An ideal construction is a wire mesh box with mesh less than 19 millimetres square. If a trap with larger mesh is used, possums can seriously damage their noses by pushing them through the mesh.
  • Traps must be set in a stable level position protected from cats, dogs, rain, wind and direct sunlight at all times.
  • You can use appropriate bait such as fruit, vegetables or peanut butter to attract the possum into the cage.

Conditions of trapping

  • All traps are to be checked no more than two hours after sunrise.
  • If you capture a possum during the day, place it in an area of your house that is quiet and cool, and cover it with an old towel or blanket to keep the light out.

Releasing trapped possums

  • Trapped possums must be released on the property on which they are captured, no more than 25 metres from the capture site after sunset on the day of capture. Releasing possums during the day increases their stress and puts them at risk of being attacked and injured.
  • Make sure you use thick gloves or a long pole to prevent yourself from getting scratched.
  • When releasing the possum, point the cage in the direction you want the animal to run off into.
  • The relocation of Brushtail Possums is prohibited.
  • Where it is not reasonably possible to release the possum on your property, possums must be humanely destroyed by a registered veterinary practitioner, at the trapper’s expense, and within 24 hours of capture.

How do I know it’s a possum in my roof?

In some cases, possums are wrongly blamed for stealing fruit or inhabiting your ceiling, with rats likely to be the real culprits. So how do you tell if it’s a possum or a rat in the roof?

If something is moving around in the ceiling, it will make different sounds depending on its size, how it walks and what it is doing. Rats weigh no more than a few hundred grams and tend to scurry when they move. Because they also need to keep their continually growing front teeth sharp, they will often gnaw loudly, so noises like these in the wall cavity of your home are most likely due to a rat.

Brushtail Possums can weigh up to five kilograms, so they will thump about in the roof even when they are walking slowly. You will most likely hear heavy bangs on the ceiling or roof, coughing and hissing noises, see stains on your ceiling or smell a strong ammonia scent caused by their urine.

If there’s more than one animal in your roof, they are likely to be either mating or fighting over territory. In either case, the noise made will help you to guess the size of the animal. Possums and rats will both squeal when mating or fighting, however, a rat’s squeal will be higher pitched. A resident male Brushtail Possum can be identified by its loud throaty call to warn other males that they are within its home range.

In terms of droppings, possums and rats typically have black pellet-shaped droppings ranging in size from around seven millimetres in length for rats to more than 15 millimetres for Brushtail Possums. The size of a Ringtail Possum’s droppings is somewhere in the middle. Rat droppings are often found scattered around a nesting or feeding site, whereas possum droppings are more likely to be found under a tree where the animal has been feeding.

In terms of nests, Brushtail Possums may have a nest of leaves in your ceiling or bed down on ceiling insulation. Rats usually build small nests in sheltered locations and line them with rags, shredded paper or dry plant material.

How do possums get in my roof?

Possums will typically enter a roof cavity under the eaves and possibly close to a bush or tree that rests against your house, which will provide access. If a Brushtail Possum can get its head into space, then it can probably squeeze the rest of its body in too, and older homes often have openings into roof cavities that are big enough to let possums in.

What damage can possums cause?

Noise aside, if left unchecked, possums can cause considerable damage to plasterboard, weatherboards, ceiling cavities and even wiring. They can also leave urine stains, cause odours, and if they die, that dead possum in roof smell will be unmistakable.

Why do possums live in roof cavities?

Possums are tree-dwelling animals that are active at night. During the day, they sleep in tree hollows or, in the case of Ringtails in southern Australia, high up the tree.

However, it can take anywhere from one hundred years or more for tree hollows to form into Eucalypt trees. As land is cleared for development, farming and dwellings, the number of available hollows has sharply declined. Once they are gone, they cannot naturally be replaced for a long time until new hollows develop in newer or other trees. Due to the lack of adequate tree hollows, possums move into our roofs through holes and establish homes for themselves inside where it is safe and dark.

What types of possums are there in Queensland?

Species

In Queensland, the two commonly encountered possum species are the Common Ringtail Possum and the Common Brushtail Possum, and both are nocturnal.

Brushtail Possums

Brushtail Possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) are commonly seen in urban areas and live along the east coast of Australia, in Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales, Canberra, Tasmania, the south-east corner of South Australia, in central Australia, including the southern Northern Territory and along the south-west coast of Western Australia.

Brushtails vary in colour, from a copper colour in northern Queensland to a grey or even blackish colouration in the southern states. Brushtails get their name from their thick, dark, bushy tail. They have pointed ears like a cat and are about the size of a big cat. Brushtails eat flowers, leaves, fruits and occasionally meat and small invertebrates.

A Brushtail Possum is highly territorial and can be noisy when defending its home territory. Male possums have a territory of about 2.8 hectares when living in close proximity with people, and females need about 1.9 hectares.

Brushtail Possums mainly breed in autumn or spring but can breed at any time of the year if there is enough food. They usually have one baby which lives in its mother’s pouch for four to five months and leaves its mother’s home range at six to 18 months old.

Ringtail Possums

Ringtail Possums (Pseudocheirus peregrinus) are less common than Brushtails and a bit smaller in size. They live along the east coast of Australia in Queensland, most of Victoria, New South Wales, Canberra, Tasmania and Western Australia’s southwest.

The Ringtail has smaller ears than the Brushtail, and it is usually grey-brown in colour with white underparts, red flanks and white spots behind its ears.

Ringtail Possums get their name from their long, tapering tail, and the last third of their tail is white. It is prehensile, meaning it can grip like another hand! This possum can grip branches with its tail and even carry nesting material with it.

Ringtails eat mostly leaves including Eucalyptus leaves, and will sometimes even develop a taste for flowers in your garden!

Ringtails are sociable and can have overlapping home territories with other Ringtail Possums. They are not as noisy as Brushtail Possums, though they sometimes make soft, high-pitched twittering calls. Ringtail Possums breed from April to November. Two possum babies usually stay in their mum’s pouch until they’re four months old, after which they ride around on mum’s back for about 11 months.

A third species, known as the Mountain Brushtail Possum, is found in wetter, higher altitude areas of south-east Queensland, and compared to the common Brushtail, has shorter rounder ears, and when found in the rainforest, a coat of black fur. There are also several other species, including the Herbert River ringtail, which is the emblem of the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.

Habitat

In urban areas, possums’ natural predation has largely been replaced by vehicle mortality and attacks by dogs and cats. Despite this and the natural habitat destruction that takes place as part of urban development, possums are still found in inner-city areas and are common in many suburbs.

Possums each live within what’s called a “home range”. Home ranges of females and males overlap, and Ringtail Possums can form female/male bonds that last between breeding seasons. However, possums are usually solitary, and where two possums are seen together, it is usually a mother and a joey.

Brushtail Possums can form territories but usually rely on scent and vocalisation to establish den ownership. This also enables them to avoid any close and sometimes aggressive contact with neighbouring possums.

Available dens are fully occupied by adult possums, and a possum without a den will not survive. This means that as juvenile possums become independent, many will die from being unable to establish a home range. It also means that if a possum is removed from an area, another one will soon fill the available den.

Most possums remain virtually invisible and, at worst, carry out ‘small mischiefs’, like bounding over your roof at night and stealing fruit from your backyard trees.

Availability of den sites is a critical factor limiting the number of possums in an area. However, with few mature trees with hollow branches left in suburban areas, Brushtail Possums have adapted by moving into the ceilings of our homes.

Unlike the Brushtail, in the south of Australia, the Ringtail Possum builds a nest out of sticks, grass, and bark called a drey. They will typically build a number of dreys within a home range so that if one is accidentally destroyed, they will move to another. Dreys are usually two to four metres off the ground and up in trees. In the north, Ringtails sleep in tree hollows and rarely build dreys. However, unlike Brushtails, they don’t usually like sheltering in your roof.

References