The opossum is many things, but did you know that it was a voracious tick eater?
A few years ago, scientists wanted to learn about the part different mammals and other animals play in the spread of the ticks and Lyme disease. One study of six species of animals (white footed mice, chipmunks, squirrels, opossums, veerys, and catbirds) tested the creatures by exposing them to ticks.
When it was all said and done, one extremely common North American animal showed a remarkable skill: the opossum was amazingly good at removing them… and eating them!
This short video talks about the omnivorous opossum and what it eats. You might be surprised to learn it’s more than just carrion and trash!
There is only one species of opossum in the United States it’s the only marsupial found here. That means they’re more closely related to kangaroos and koalas from Australia than another common pest of North America, the raccoon. The one species is the Virginia opossum. (Didelphis virginiana) They’re often considered to be ugly pest animals with their hairless ears and hairless tails. Their weird feet with their opposable thumbs give some people the creeps. The opossum’s ability to munch down on the annoying blood suckers took even researchers by surprise.
“I had no suspicion they’d be such efficient tick-killing animals,” said Richard Ostfeld, of the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York. “Don’t hit opossums if they’ve playing dead in the road.”
Opossums are crazy, fastidious, grooming animals like cats, and when they find a tick, it’s right down the hatch. Researchers found many digested ticks in the feces of cooperative opossums. Cheers to the guy who got that job!
Ostfeld said that one opossum can kill and eat some 5,000 ticks in a single season.
While they can’t get them all and certainly get bitten by a few, opossums will destroy some 90 percent of all the ticks they encounter. Knowing the effects of Lyme disease maybe the little mammals will get a better rap now in the animal world. So, the next time you see one “playing possum” in your yard or a bunch of young opossums clinging to their mother’s back as the family flees your back porch light, just know they are doing a dirty, but useful job.