Raccoons and possums are two common backyard wildlife species that sometimes cross paths at night. If you’ve seen both animals near your home, you may wonder if these nocturnal creatures get along or compete for resources.

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: raccoons and possums generally tolerate each other, but they don’t interact much. They may chase or bite if competing for food, dens, or territory, but outright attacks are rare.

Raccoon and Possum Habits and Behavior

Foraging and Feeding Patterns

Raccoons and possums have quite different foraging and feeding patterns. Raccoons are omnivorous and opportunistic feeders, eating a wide variety of foods including insects, rodents, eggs, fruit, seeds, nuts, and human garbage. They use their dexterous front paws to manipulate food and objects.

Possums, on the other hand, are primarily herbivores who prefer to eat fallen fruit, nectar, and pollen. They have a lower metabolism than raccoons and don’t need to eat as much. Possums aren’t as nimble as raccoons and aren’t able to access the same variety of foods.

Raccoons are nocturnal and do most of their foraging at night. Possums are generally nocturnal as well but are more flexible and will forage during the day if necessary. Raccoons have excellent night vision and a keen sense of smell that aids their foraging.

Possums have decent night vision but not nearly as good as raccoons.

Shelter and Denning Requirements

Raccoons and possums have vastly different sheltering behaviors. Raccoons prefer dens in hollowed-out trees or cavities but are very adaptable when it comes to den sites. They will den in abandoned burrows, brush piles, barns, attics, and a variety of urban structures.

Possums prefer nests in tree hollows and will not use ground nests. They build nests lined with leaves and other soft material.

Raccoons will reuse favorable den sites year after year. Female raccoons looking to birth and raise young will seek out cavities high off the ground for safety. Possums do not reuse dens and frequently switch nests, presumably to avoid parasite buildup.

Female possums construct temporary nests in hollow trees before giving birth.

Territoriality and Home Ranges

Raccoons and possums have very different ranges and territorial behaviors. Raccoons maintain well-defined home ranges but are not particularly territorial. Home ranges measure between .5 to 3 square miles depending on habitat quality. Male raccoon home ranges overlap significantly with other raccoons.

Possums have much smaller home ranges of around .5 square miles and aggressively defend their territories, especially against other possums.

Raccoons will congregate in favorable habitats at higher densities. As many as 5-10 raccoons may den in close proximity in urban areas. Possums are solitary and intolerant of other adult possums in their space.

While raccoons seem to tolerate living in close quarters with unrelated individuals, possums do not.

Competition Between Raccoons and Possums

Consuming the Same Food Sources

As omnivores, raccoons and possums have very similar diets, including fruits, vegetables, eggs, insects, crustaceans, and small vertebrates (Source). This puts them in direct competition over many natural food sources.

Both species are extremely adaptable and will eat almost anything they can get their paws on, from raiding trash cans to stealing pet food.

Raccoons tend to be more aggressive competitors, able to drive possums away from food sources through sheer dominance. Their intelligence also gives them an advantage, as they are better at problem solving to get access to food, like unscrewing jars or dismantling obstacles (Source).

Searching for Den Sites

Raccoons and possums seek out similar den sites to rest and birth their young, including burrows, brush piles, hollow logs, abandoned buildings, and spaces under decks or porches. This creates substantial clash over desirable nesting spots.

Both species may fight violently over dens, but possums usually back down due to the raccoon’s larger size and superior strength. Possums are more likely to be displaced and must keep searching for new nests when raccoons move in (Source).

Defending Territories

Raccoons are extremely territorial, actively defending an area of around 20-150 acres against other raccoons and predators (Source). They use scent marking, vocalizing, and violent fighting to protect food resources, dens, and mates.

Possums have much smaller home ranges of around 2-20 acres (Source). While less aggressive overall, they will defend their territory from encroaching raccoons with loud screeching, bared teeth, and biting. However, raccoons usually dominate in physical confrontations.

Aggressive Interactions and Diseases

Fighting Over Resources

Raccoons and possums both thrive in urban and suburban areas where food and shelter are abundant. This can lead to confrontations as they compete for limited resources like food, water, and nesting areas (1).

Raccoons are very territorial and will aggressively defend their resources from other animals, including possums (2). Fights usually consist of biting, scratching, and loud vocalizations. Raccoons tend to dominate these aggressive encounters due to their larger size and strength compared to possums (3).

Some key examples of raccoons and possums fighting over resources include:

  • Access to garbage cans/dumpsters with food waste
  • Prime denning locations like hollow trees, attics, sheds, etc.
  • Spaces under porches or decks for establishing nests
  • Fruit trees, vegetable gardens, and pet food dishes

To reduce confrontations, homeowners should secure trash and food sources, cap chimneys, plug holes in buildings, and minimize outdoor pet food. Installing motion sensor lights and sprinklers may also discourage nightly visits from raccoons and possums to a property (4).

Transmission of Parasites and Pathogens

Raccoons and possums can transmit a variety of dangerous parasites, bacteria, and viruses between each other during aggressive encounters over resources (5). Some examples include:

  • Roundworm – Raccoons are primary hosts of the roundworm parasite Baylisascaris procyonis, which they spread through their feces. Possums can become infected by ingesting raccoon feces near food sources. The parasite can cause severe neurological disease in humans (6).
  • Leptospirosis – Possums and raccoons spread the bacteria Leptospira interrogans through their urine. Transmission occurs through contact with urine-contaminated soil or water. The disease can cause kidney and liver failure in severe cases (7).
  • Rabies – Both species can contract the rabies virus through bites from infected animals. Around 30% of rabies cases in terrestrial animals are found in raccoons (8). Aggressive encounters increase the risk of transmitting rabies through saliva.
  • Distemper – The canine distemper virus is highly contagious between raccoons and causes respiratory, gastrointestinal, and neurological disease. Possums are not natural hosts but can become infected during close contact with sick raccoons (9).

To protect themselves against zoonotic diseases, people should avoid direct contact with wild raccoons and possums. Safely sealing up access points to homes prevents these animals from entering living spaces and spreading germs.

Vaccinating pets against rabies and distemper adds another layer of protection (10). Obtaining routine rabies shots for family members if living in a high-risk endemic area is also recommended.

Disease Primary Host Transmission Symptoms
Roundworm Raccoons Ingesting infected feces Neurological disorders, blindness, coma
Leptospirosis Possums and Raccoons Contact with infected urine Fever, headache, vomiting, jaundice
Rabies Raccoons (30% cases) Bites and saliva Brain inflammation, hallucinations, paralysis
Distemper Raccoons Respiratory secretions Pneumonia, seizures, death

By taking proper sanitation and containment precautions, the public can mitigate the risks from zoonotic diseases spread during aggressive raccoon-possum interactions over shared urban resources.


(1) https://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/wildlife_damage/content/printable_version/Raccoons-and-Possums.pdf

(2) https://www.wildlifeanimalcontrol.com/raccoon-range-and-habits.html

(3) https://animals.mom.com/raccoons-possums-fight-8396.html

(4) https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/what-do-about-wild-animals

(5) https://doi.org/10.1093/jmammal/gyw079

(6) https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/baylisascaris/index.html

(7) https://www.cdc.gov/leptospirosis/index.html

(8) https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/location/usa/surveillance/wild_animals.html

(9) https://www.nwhc.usgs.gov/publications/disease_emergence/Chapter5.pdf

(10) https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/exposure/animals/other.html

Coexistence Strategies

Temporal Avoidance

Raccoons and opossums have evolved strategies to avoid competing with each other for resources like food and shelter. One key strategy is temporal avoidance, meaning they are active at different times of day or night.

Opossums tend to be most active 2-5 hours after sunset, often foraging between 8 pm and midnight. Raccoons, on the other hand, do most of their foraging in the few hours before dawn, between 2-5 am. This staggered schedule reduces direct confrontation between the two species.

Researchers have observed that in areas where raccoons are abundant, opossums will shift their foraging to even earlier in the evening to minimize contact. Opossums are adept at altering their circadian rhythms to adapt to local conditions.

Microhabitat Preferences

In addition to temporal partitioning, raccoons and opossums optimize their chance of coexistence by preferring different microhabitats or nesting sites.

Opossums often nest in tree holes, abandoned burrows, brush piles, woodpiles, and other natural shelters. Raccoons prefer dens in hollow trees, rock crevices, brush piles, and abandoned buildings. There is some overlap, but each species gravitates toward their optimal microhabitat.

Research in Texas found raccoon and opossum nests to be separated by 169 meters on average, reducing competition for dens. The species also showed habitat partitioning vertically, with raccoons nesting higher in trees than opossums.

Food Generalization

Raccoons and opossums also avoid competing for food through their generalized diets. Both species eat a wide variety of foods including fruits, seeds, nuts, eggs, small vertebrates, carrion, garbage, and pet food.

However, raccoons rely more heavily on aquatic foods like crayfish and mussels. Opossums consume a higher fraction of insects and carrion. This dietary flexibility allows them to partition resources in most environments.

One study in Texas found only a 17% dietary overlap between raccoons and opossums. Such low competition is a key factor enabling their coexistence across much of North America.

Preventing Conflicts in Your Backyard

Remove Food Sources

One of the best ways to prevent raccoons, possums, and other wildlife from fighting in your backyard is to remove any food sources that might attract them. This includes keeping pet food inside, cleaning up fallen fruit from trees, and not leaving garbage cans open.

Raccoons in particular are very smart, and can easily get into compost bins. Make sure to use animal-proof compost bins or to keep compost contained in a closed area. Bird feeders will also attract possums and raccoons looking for an easy snack.

Consider removing bird feeders entirely or using specialized feeders with weight sensitive perches that only allow smaller birds to access the food.

Provide Shelter Options

Raccoons and possums often fight over prime den locations for raising their young. Reduce territory conflicts by providing alternative nesting areas around your home. You can place nesting boxes at least 10 feet off the ground on trees.

Make sure the entrance holes are no more than 4 inches across so that larger animals can’t take over the space. An even better option is to leave dead trees standing, which provide ideal natural cavities for possums.

You can also stack piles of brush in out-of-the-way corners of your yard to create hiding spots for animals. Having multiple options reduces competition for the optimal dens.

Use Repellents When Needed

Sometimes all your prevention methods still won’t stop animals from going head-to-head. In these cases, you may need to use repellents to encourage them to move along. Avoid harmful chemical repellents and go for natural options instead.

Sprinkling black pepper, red pepper flakes, vinegar, garlic, chili oil, or essential oils like peppermint oil, eucalyptus, tea tree, lavender, etc around dens or in your garden can help deter possums and raccoons.

You can also place natural repellents like mothballs or ammonia-soaked rags in potential nesting areas. Just make sure they are high enough to be out of reach of pets. Motion activated lights and sprinklers can also startle nocturnal animals away from an area.

Be sure to remove anything that may attract the animals back once they have left the space.


In summary, raccoons and possums typically ignore each other. But conflicts can occur if they compete for limited food or shelter. Usually, these species find ways to coexist through different activity patterns, microhabitat choices, and generalized diets.

To support peaceful coexistence in your yard, eliminate open food sources, offer alternative dens, and use humane deterrents sparingly.

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