While many think opossums are cute and funny, they have a reputation for being pests, and some see them as trouble. Yet, apparently, there is more to these little critters than meets the eye, and researchers indicate that they can actually be quite useful.
Opossums are the only marsupial native to North America and the most common type is the Virginia Opossum, which has adapted to the severe New England winters.
Just like cats, opossums groom themselves and eat all ticks found on their bodies. A study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B pointed out that opossums kill around 90 percent of the ticks that attempt to attach and feed on them.
Laura Simon, a wildlife ecologist with the U.S. Humane Society said:
“They’re one of the oldest species of mammal around, having waddled past dinosaurs. They eat grubs and insects and even mice, working over the environment like little vacuum cleaners. They really eat whatever they find.”
These gentle creatures are remarkably resistant to disease, they are rarely aggressive and usually play dead in the middle of the highway if attacked.
The only time the opossum’s presence poses a threat to your household is when you raise chickens.
The Dallas-Fort Worth Wildlife Coalition wrote:
“Opossums eat fruits, snakes (opossums are immune to all types of snake venom, except that of the coral snake), insects, snails, slugs, eggs, mice, rats, fish, frogs, crayfish, and carrion. If for no other reason than pest control, opossums are great to have around!”
The following video provides an explanation of their habits and why having them in the backyard is beneficial:
Nowadays, the populations of ticks are on the rise, leading to the increased spread of tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease, and fourteen others.
These illnesses are not diagnosed and treated with ease, and numerous medical experts believe that there’s a silent epidemic of these illnesses, especially Lyme Disease.
Richard Ostfeld, of the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies in Millerton, N.Y., a forest ecologist and an expert on the environmental elements of infectious diseases like Lyme disease says:
“Don’t hit opossums if they’ve playing dead in the road.”
According to the findings of a study that involved six species, opossums were most efficient in getting rid of the ticks.
Ostfeld explained that the team found that in one season, an opossum can kill about 5,000 ticks.
“They’re net destroyers of ticks.”
Yet, note that while data indicates that opossums eat thousands of deer ticks per season and thus can prevent the spreading of Lyme Disease to humans, their effect on the Lyme Disease infection rates is indeterminate.