Possums and rabbits sharing territory sounds like a cute Disney movie! But what really happens when these two adorable critters meet in the wild? Will they become the best of friends? Or could there be bloodshed? The truth is, possums do sometimes see tender rabbit kittens as tasty snacks! These normally gentle marsupials may turn savage if hungry enough. Will rabbits be forced to flee for their lives under the cover of darkness? Uncover the truth about the little-known possum vs rabbit rivalry for survival in this riveting 10000 word expose! Get ready for the ultimate showdown between fluffy herbivore and furry omnivore!
What is a Possum?
A possum is a marsupial that is native to Australia, New Guinea, Sulawesi and New Zealand. There are around 70 different species of possums, which belong to the taxonomic order Diprotodontia. Some of the most common possum species are the common brushtail possum, the common ringtail possum and the Virginia opossum.
Possums are nocturnal animals that are well adapted to arboreal life. They have prehensile tails that can wrap around branches, and opposable thumbs on their rear feet that allow them to grasp. Possums have pointy faces, pink noses, round ears and thick fur. They vary in size from the little pygmy possum which weighs just 7 grams, to the common brushtail possum which can weigh up to 4 kilograms.
Possums live in a variety of habitats including forests, woodlands, heathland and urban gardens. They make nests called dreys in the hollows of trees, or in abandoned bird nests. Possums are solitary creatures that forage alone at night. They are omnivores that eat a variety of plants and animals. Some possum species supplement their diets with nectar and pollen.
Common brushtail possums have adapted well to living in close proximity to humans in urban areas. They frequently raid domestic gardens and disturb roof cavities. As such, they are often considered pests. However, possums play an important ecological role by dispersing seeds and preying on insects. They are also an iconic Australian marsupial.
Are Possums Carnivorous?
Possums are omnivores rather than pure carnivores. This means they eat both plant and animal matter. However, the majority of a possum's diet consists of plant material such as leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds. They supplement this vegetation with protein gained from insects, snails, birds' eggs and small vertebrates.
The exact make-up of a possum's diet depends on their species, habitat and seasonal food availability. For example, the common brushtail possum eats mostly leaves and flowers, but also eats insects, spiders and small birds. The mountain brushtail possum consumes a higher proportion of animal prey including insects and carrion.
All possums have adapted to locate animal protein sources. They have excellent night vision and smell which assists them in finding insects, nestling birds and carrion in the dark. Common brushtail possums in particular have adapted to hunt and eatintroduced mammals and birds in Australia such as rats, mice and common starlings. Their hands allow them to grasp prey firmly when hunting.
While possums do actively hunt small animals, the bulk of their diet still consists of plant matter. They do not have the dedicated hunting abilities and carnassial teeth required to be true carnivores. Possums spend most of their foraging time consuming vegetation. So in summary, while opportunistic meat eating supplements their diet, possums are essentially herbivorous omnivores rather than carnivores.
What is the Diet of a Possum?
The diet of a possum depends somewhat on the species, but generally consists of a wide variety of plant and animal matter. Some of the most common food items eaten by possums include:
Leaves, buds, flowers and fruits from trees and shrubs. Eucalyptus and Acacia leaves are favourites for many possum species.
Seeds from pod plants.
Fungi such as mushrooms.
Nectar and pollen gathered from banksias, eucalypts and bottlebrushes.
Insects and spiders such as moths, cockroaches, millipedes and weta.
Snails and slugs.
Small mammals including rats, mice and rabbits.
Birds' eggs and nestlings.
Carrion from roadkill and other carcasses.
The ringtail possum has a strong preference for Eucalyptus leaves, making up around 50% of its diet. The common brushtail possum eats more fruit than other species. The mountain brushtail possum eats a higher proportion of arthropods and carrion.
All possums are opportunistic omnivores. They will eat more meat during winters when leaves are scarce. And possums living near humans often scavenge our fruit trees, veggie gardens and rubbish bins. Access to these human food sources allow urban possums to eat more proteins and fats, and have increased survival rates.
Do Possums and Rabbits Get Along?
In most cases, possums and rabbits largely ignore each other when living in the same habitat. The two species do not directly compete for resources, so there is no need for aggression or conflict.
Rabbits are herbivores that feed on grasses, vegetables and garden plants. Possums eat a wider variety of vegetation as well as meats. This means their diets don't significantly overlap.
Rabbits are active during the day, while possums are nocturnal. So they are unlikely to encounter each other while foraging. Both species may dig burrows, but generally do not compete for den sites.
Sometimes rabbits and possums may actually benefit each other. For example, rabbits may expose the ground while grazing, making it easier for possums to dig burrows. And possums may eat insects that are potential pests to rabbits.
The only scenarios where they negatively interact is if possums try to eat vegetables grown by humans that rabbits are also feeding on. In this case the possum may be seen as a pest. But in general, possums and rabbits co-exist relatively harmoniously in shared habitats.
Do Possums Kill Rabbits?
Healthy adult rabbits are generally not at risk of attack from possums. However, baby rabbits (kittens) or injured / weak rabbits may potentially be killed for food by possums in some circumstances.
Here are some of the factors that come into play:
Rabbits are often too large for a possum to successfully kill. A healthy, fully grown pet or wild rabbit outweighs the average brushtail possum.
Possums are not dedicated hunters. While they will eat meat, they do not have the speed, agility or carnassial teeth to efficiently kill large prey. Rabbits also have powerful hind legs that allow them to escape from danger.
Possums prefer easier food sources. They are more likely to scavenge carrion or raid nests for eggs / chicks rather than go to the effort of hunting down a rabbit.
However, kittens and baby rabbits are small, helpless and easier for a possum to overpower and kill. Possums may also take advantage of any weakened or injured adult rabbits.
Extreme hunger may also make a possum more likely to attack a fully grown rabbit. This may occur more during winter when other food is scarce.
So in summary, healthy adult rabbits are very unlikely to be attacked or killed by possums. But babies and injured individuals potentially could be taken as prey if the opportunity arises. Co-existence without conflict is more common however.
Will Possums Eat Dead Rabbits?
Possums are definitely known to feed on rabbit carcasses if they find them. As opportunistic scavengers, possums will not pass up an easy protein source.
Like most marsupials, possums have a very short intestine and rapid food transit time. This means their digestive system is geared more towards being carnivorous. Meat proteins and fats are more easily digested and absorbed than plant fibre and cellulose.
So if a possum finds the remains of a dead rabbit, it will happily consume the highly nutritious meat and organ tissues. The bones may also be eaten as they are a good source of calcium. And the fur or skin may be consumed if the possum is hungry enough.
During winter when other foods are scarce, possums eagerly scavenge any carrion they discover. So rabbit carcasses may become an important food source for possums at this time of year.
The only parts of a rabbit carcass that a possum typically won't eat are the stomach and caecum contents. This vegetable matter takes too long to digest. But otherwise, all tissues and organs from a dead rabbit are readily consumed if discovered by an opportunistic possum.
How Do I Keep Possums Away from My Property?
Here are some tips to humanely and legally deter possums from your house and garden:
Remove food attractants by cleaning up fallen fruit and covering compost heaps. Use possum-proof bins and chicken coops.
Block access points into your roof cavity, shed or porch. Seal gaps around pipes and vents.
Place temporary fencing around vegetable gardens and cover plants with mesh or netting.
Install motion sensor lighting to scare off night time visitors.
Play sounds of predators like dogs barking to frighten possums away.
Use natural repellents like ammonia-soaked rags placed in dens or near garden beds.
Plant marigolds, daffodils or garlic around the perimeter of garden beds to deter possums.
Attach slippery materials like metal sheeting to climbing surfaces. Possums have trouble gripping smooth surfaces.
Prune back overhanging tree branches to remove possum access routes onto roofs.
Seek council permission before using humane cage trapping and releasing possums more than 100 metres away.
Be sure to provide shelter, water and supplementary feed if relocating possums.
Get professional pest control to humanely remove possums if damage becomes excessive.
The key is to make your property less inviting and attractive to possums, while also legally and ethically relocating them. With some diligence, it is possible to co-exist with possums while protecting your garden.