Possums are curious creatures of the night that inhabit areas alongside rabbits. But how much do these nocturnal marsupials interact with their lop-eared neighbors? Do possums pose a threat to vulnerable newborn bunnies, or can rabbits rest easy in their burrows? Is it true that possums will devour helpless baby rabbits in their nests? Do these tree-dwellers ever venture down to the ground to hunt full-grown rabbits? And will possums feast on fallen rabbit carcasses? To uncover the truth about the possum diet and their relation to rabbits, read on to learn about possum eating habits, their likelihood of killing rabbits, and how to protect your rabbits from these ambling omnivores. The answers may surprise you!
What is a Possum?
A possum is a marsupial native to Australia and New Guinea. There are around 70 different species of possum, including the Common Brushtail Possum, the Common Ringtail Possum, and the Greater Glider.
Possums are nocturnal and arboreal, meaning they live in trees. They have prehensile tails that they use to grip branches. Possums have pointy faces, pink noses, and big round ears. Their fur color varies between species, but generally ranges from gray and brown to white or golden.
Possums are omnivores and eat a variety of plants and animals. Their diet consists of leaves, flowers, fruits, insects, snails, birds’ eggs, and sometimes rodents or other small mammals. Possums are not predators, but they are opportunistic eaters. If they come across an easy meal like roadkill or unattended nestlings, they will take advantage of it.
In the United States, the Virginia Opossum is often referred to as a possum. But it is in fact an opossum, a different family of marsupial native to the Americas. Opossums and possums may look similar, but opossums have adapted to life in North America while possums remain endemic to Australasia.
Possums play an important ecological role, especially in Australian forests. They pollinate flowers and disperse seeds as they forage. They are also prey species for carnivorous native wildlife. Though sometimes considered pests, possums are a natural part of a balanced ecosystem. Their arboreal nature provides added diversity to forest habitats.
Are Possums Carnivorous?
Possums are omnivores, not carnivores. They eat a varied diet of both plant and animal matter. Possums do not primarily hunt or eat other animals. Their diet generally consists of about 10% insects, larvae, eggs, and other sources of meat protein. The other 90% of their diet is made up of plant material – leaves, flowers, fruits, nectar, and vegetable matter.
While possums will opportunistically eat carrion or raid nests for eggs and babies, they do not have the adaptations suited for routinely hunting mammalian prey. Possums don't have sharp claws for grasping prey, specialized teeth for tearing flesh, or the speed and agility found in dedicated carnivores.
That said, some individual possums may eat more insects or meat than others. A mother possum needs extra protein while nursing baby joeys. And all possums will readily eat meat sources when they find them. But on the whole, the possum diet consists mostly of plant food that they can forage while climbing trees at night.
Compared to omnivores like bears that routinely hunt, possums should not be considered carnivorous. Their anatomy and behavior show adaptations for an herbivorous, arboreal lifestyle. While they do consume some meat, plants make up the majority of the possum diet. They fill an ecological niche as opportunistic generalist foragers, not predators.
What is the Diet of a Possum?
Possums are opportunistic omnivores and eat a variety of both plant and animal matter. Their diet in the wild consists of:
Leaves, flowers, buds, nectar – Possums favor Eucalyptus, Acacia, and Banksia plants.
Fruits – Especially berries, apples, pears, plums. Also avocados, mangos, figs.
Shoots, stems, bark – All provide nutritional vegetation.
Insects – Crickets, beetles, caterpillars, moths, cockroaches.
Snails and slugs
Lizards and frogs
Small mammals and rodents – Mice, rats, squirrels. Usually opportunistic as carrion or unattended nestlings.
Birds' eggs and chicks
Possums spend most of their foraging time eating plant material. But they will supplement their diet with protein from insects, larvae, eggs, and small vertebrates when the opportunity arises.
The possum diet varies somewhat by species and habitat. For example, the Mountain Brushtail Possum eats more moths and beetles compared to lowland forest possums. And possums living near the ocean may eat more crustaceans. All possums are adaptable omnivores and will eat what is seasonally available in their environment.
In urban areas, possums readily eat human sources of food like trash, pet food, and unsecured compost piles. They are attracted by the easy, plentiful calories. An urban possum's diet often differs from that of its rural counterparts.
Do Possums and Rabbits Get Along?
In general, possums and rabbits largely ignore each other when living in the same habitat. There is little direct interaction or competition between the two species.
Possums are nocturnal marsupials adapted for life in the trees. Rabbits are crepuscular (active at dusk and dawn) ground-dwelling mammals. Because of their differing activity patterns and lifestyles, possums and rabbits rarely cross paths.
Both species are primarily herbivores that eat different parts of plants. Rabbits eat grass, tree bark, roots and vegetable crops. Possums prefer fruit, nectar, leaves and buds. This reduces competition over the same food sources.
Rabbits prefer to live in open areas and build burrows, while possums inhabit forest areas and nest in tree hollows. By living and feeding in separate areas, possums and rabbits co-exist but their populations generally do not directly interact or impact each other.
One exception is when rabbits or hares are imported to new environments such as Australia. Local possum populations may take advantage of this novel prey species in their ecosystem. But in most areas where possums and rabbits originate from, the two animals maintain distinct and separate niches. They may inhabit the same broad territory without significant conflict.
Do Possums Kill Rabbits?
Healthy adult rabbits are not typically prey for possums. However, possums are opportunistic omnivores and may kill and eat vulnerable baby rabbits under the right circumstances.
In general, possums do not hunt rabbits and lack adaptations suited for killing large prey. But they will take advantage of easy protein sources. This includes raiding nests with unattended baby rabbits.
A possum may raid a shallow rabbit nest and eat the kits directly. Or it may carry off kits to eat elsewhere later. If a nestling rabbit is injured, ill or abandoned, a possum is likely to attack it.
Mother rabbits are very protective of their young and will aggressively fight off possums. But a distracted mother or shallow nest makes the kits vulnerable to possum attacks. Other times, the mother rabbit may be scared away from the nest by a louder predator like a fox, making the babies an easy target for quiet, lurking possums.
Outside of nestlings, the only rabbits at risk from possums are ones already dead or extremely weakened by illness or injury. A possum will rarely pass up the opportunity for an easy protein-rich meal of carrion. But healthy mature rabbits and hares have little to fear from possums.
So while uncommon, possums do very occasionally prey on baby rabbits or take advantage of carrion. But they do not routinely hunt and kill healthy rabbit specimens, especially adults.
Will Possums Eat Dead Rabbits?
Yes, possums are known to scavenge carrion and will readily eat dead rabbits they come across. As omnivores, possums have adapted to exploit any available food sources in their environment, including dead animals.
A possum's sharp sense of smell allows it to detect carrion from a considerable distance. Once found, a possum will eagerly consume as much of the flesh as it can. Carrion provides possums with a rich source of protein and nutrients to supplement their usual plant-based diet.
The bones, fur and other indigestible parts may be left behind after the possum has eaten its fill. But the soft tissues and organs of the carcass will be eaten enthusiastically.
In urban and semi-rural areas, possums frequently take advantage of roadkill, eating roadside carcasses of rabbits and other animals. Rural possums may similarly capitalize on any carcasses resulting from diseases like myxomatosis that affect the local rabbit population.
Since possums are immune to many rabbit diseases, they do not have to fear illness from scavenging rabbit carcasses. Their immune systems and digestive tracts have adapted to allow them to safely eat rotting meat that would sicken other animals.
So while a possum does not hunt and kill healthy rabbits itself, it will happily take advantage of any dead rabbit it happens to find. Carrion from any source forms a regular part of the opportunistic possum diet.
How Do I Keep Possums Away from My Property?
Here are some tips for keeping possums away from your house and yard:
Remove food sources like unfenced compost piles, fallen fruit or pet food left outdoors. Don't leave garbage accessible. Eliminate anything possums want to eat.
Seal up entry points to your attic, roof space, porch or shed. Block holes with wire mesh, caulk, wood, metal flashing or concrete.
Trim back any overhanging tree branches that allow possums access to the roof.
Cover chimneys and vents with secure screens and grates to block animal access.
Use motion-activated lights and sounds to startle nighttime possum visitors. Strategically place these deterrents near potential den sites or food sources.
Apply ammonia soaked rags or mothballs around unwanted possum activity areas. The strong smell will drive them away.
Allow your pet dog to patrol your backyard at night – many possums will avoid areas patrolled by dogs.
Change fencing to roll-top or cone-shaped metal flashing to prevent possums from climbing over. Bury fencing at least 12 inches underground.
Limit vegetation cover and woodpiles around the property perimeter – this reduces possum shelter and hiding spots.
Use humane traps baited with fruit to live-capture and relocate possums found on your property. Then exclude them from returning.
The key is removing all sources of food, water and shelter that are attracting possums. A combination of exclusion, removing rewards and deterrents will make your property less appealing to visiting possums.