Living with possums

There are several species of possum living with us in Melbourne but the two most commonly cooed over or cursed at are Common Brushtails (Trichosurus vulpecula) and Ringtails (Pseudocheirus peregrinus).

The Common Brushtail Possum

Trichosurus Vulpecula
Adult Brushtails are about the size of a cat and you will definitely hear the ‘thump!’ when they land on your roof at night.  They normally live in tree hollows but as urbanisation has proceeded there are more safe, dark roofs for them to live in than trees and they are quite at home sharing your house.  Brushtails eat leaves, fruits, flowers and sometimes eggs.  They are highly territorial.

The Ringtail Possum

Ringtail Possum

Ringtails are smaller than Brushtails, and far less likely to invade your roof.  They are social animals and build nests, called dreys, of leaves and bark in the branches of trees.  Ringtails prefer to eat leaves, flowers and fruit.

Rare Possums around Melbourne

Other possums around Melbourne include the Feather Tale Glider, Sugar Glider, Lead Beaters, Yellow-bellied Glider, Squirrel Glider and Pygmy Possum.  Much of the habitat for these possums has been destroyed.  They do not adapt to urban living as well as their cousins the Brush Tail and Ring Tail have done.  Most of these species prefer a natural hollow to nest in rather than building a dray.  We encourage our clients to preserve natural hollows where practicable to retain habitat for rare species.

Common damage and nuisances

Possum browse can devastate your garden, with leaves, flowers and new shoots being nibbled as fast as they appear.  The thumping, growls and hisses of Brushtails in your roof can disrupt sleep and set the dog to barking all night.  The most noise you hear from possums is from the territorial disputes.  When you remove a possum from the area you will spark a new battle for the territory.  This exacerbates the problem.

Possums can also kill trees.  When a tree is under stress the possum population will find it more attractive, so they will graze on it night after night.  This will eventually wear down the energy reserves of the tree by depriving it of photosynthesis and kill it.  Despite these potential negatives it is possible to live with possums in peace.

What doesn’t work

Trapping, relocating or destroying possums is not the answer, no matter how much they may infuriate you.  All Australian native wildlife is protected under Federal Law, The Wildlife Act 1975 and may not be interfered with, harmed or killed.  One exception has been gazetted:  it is permitted only to trap Common Brushtail Possums living in buildings for the purpose of release on the property or euthanasia by a registered veterinarian.

Possums are territorial and relocation often results in the death of the animal due to stress, loss of safe nesting places and predators.  Relocation is inhumane and ineffective.  By taking a possum away from your property you are creating ‘vacant property’ for a new family of possums to move into.

What does work?

Pruning the possum highway

If possums are accessing your roof via trees in your garden we may be able to prune the vegetation back, preventing the possums using that avenue.  Some trees may not be suitable for exclusion pruning.  Possum guarding to prevent access to the tree from the ground may be appropriate.

Possum Guard

It can be very frustrating to watch your precious trees losing more and more leaves by the night to possum browse.  Some trees are good candidates for the installation of possum guarding, a clear polycarbonate band fixed around the stem.  This prevents possums from climbing into the tree and encourages them to find food elsewhere.  Possum guarding lasts for several years and is installed using a method that allows the tree to ‘pop’ it off as it grows, preventing girdling or eventual ring-barking.  It is necessary to isolate the canopy of a tree to prevent alternate access.  A combination of exclusion pruning and possum guard installation may be appropriate.

Alternate nesting sites

We can create or provide nesting boxes for possums in your garden if you’d like to keep them around but not in your roof!  Once you have removed the possum from the roof and made sure it can’t get back in, have somewhere they can move into immediately by having a nesting box added to your garden.

Planting choices for a garden unattractive to possums

Certain trees and shrubs are just not tasty to possums.  A garden full of camellias and rhododendrons will be free from the nibbling of possums.  These species are toxic to the possum diet.

What Sometimes Works

Sensor lights

We have had some success with sensor lights.  Point the light and the sensor at the tree to be protected.  Put the sensitivity to ‘high’ and the time period to ‘short’.  This will light the tree when the possum moves in and temporarily blind it.  As the possum begins to adapt to the extra light it will then switch off and reduce its vision again.  This should annoy the possum without causing it any long term harm and it will move on to another tree.


Testing of many common possum repellants has been undertaken by Deakin University with disappointing results for those wanting the nibbling to stop.  The bottom line: some products and home remedies work some of the time with some possums.  It may be worth trying several options in case something works.  For a list of repellants and information on the testing results click here