Opossums are unique, somewhat odd looking marsupials and although they are often the subject of very funny memes, they have a bad rap among many humans. Often viewed as pests, making a mess breaking into trash cans and the old wives tale that possums spread rabies, for example. In fact, the opposite is true and thankfully, according to a representative for the Opossum Awareness & Advocacy, this perception is changing.
“Different people view opossums in different ways and the perception is changing, but historically many believed opossums were giant rodents that spread rabies, due to the fact they do like a bit like rats (especially their tails). Historically people would kill them as pests and also eat them. There are several areas where people still do kill them and see them as pests. Some people see them as pests due to the fact that opossums seek warmth in the colder months and can make homes in basements and attics. Many horse owners hate opossums due to the fact that they are capable of carrying a virus that can kill horses. Not all opossums carry this virus. They need to contract it by eating another creature that has the virus. They spread the virus to horses by their urine or excrement (if the horse eats food/grass contaminated by the infected opossum urine/poop then they can become sick and it’s sometimes deadly). So there are some horse owners who kill opossums on sight. Others do not and just take precautions to keep opossums away from anything their horses might eat,” they said.
When opossums visit your garden, you should probably thank them for the good they do. Not only do they get rid of mice (also carriers of infectious diseases, including Lyme disease), snakes, slugs and other garden pest, they love ticks. These creatures, when left in peace to do what they do best are responsible for reducing Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses in humans and other animals. Ticks happens to be their favorite snack and chow down on an estimated 5,000 per season.
The Vermont Wildlife Coalition recently shared a photo captured by a trail camera, showing an opossum snacking on ticks, eating them directly off a deer’s face, and the deer seems to be loving it. A perfect example of nature at work, two totally different species helping each other out. Much like birds spreading the seeds of plants, or pollination by bees and butterflies
Opossums have a very important mission, to clean up nature. They are often perceived as dirty creatures, another unfortunate myth. Fact is they groom and clean themselves constantly, as cats do. They also don’t usually contract or spread rabies because of their very low body temperature.
When feeling threatened, they’ll try to look intimidating by hissing. They scare easily though and might faint or play dead until the threat has passed. However, they are also quite cute and adorable, but like many wild animals, they often carry fleas, parasites and even diseases so it’s best to leave them in the wild where they can do what they are meant to. As with most wild animals, they should not be kept as pets which is illegal to do in many states.
The Opossum Awareness & Advocacy representative sums up the opossums positive traits:
“A. They eat thousands of ticks each season. Seasons vary depending on where one lives. In winter when ticks are dormant in the north where it is very cold, opossums would not be killing them.
B. It’s almost impossible for opossums to contract rabies due to their lower than normal blood/body temperature.
C. Opossum is virtually impervious to poisonous snake bites and also can kill those snakes, making the world a bit safer of poisonous snakes. Scientists have also used opossum blood to create injections to save people after they have been bitten by poisonous snakes.
D. Opossum kills more than just harmful ticks and snakes, they are essentially nature’s pest control and eat mice, slugs and other things we humans consider pests.
E. They are the USA and Canada’s only marsupial.
F. They are cute
G. It’s cool to see a mother opossum carrying her babies around on her back.”
Furthermore, the Opossum Awareness & Advocacy representative suggests that, “People can help them by educating themselves and having the real facts on opossums (the good and the bad) and then telling their friends and family and towns about them. In my view, opossums are probably the most misunderstood and underrated animal in the USA. They deserve a public apology by many people and organizations that have harmed and maligned them in the past.”
If you’d like to support the cause of helping opossums feel free to donate to the organization or buy merchandise from the Opossum Awareness & Advocacy store.
Those blood sucking insects opossums’ love so much are probably the only transmitters of Lyme disease. In the US, about 14,000 humans contract Lyme disease every year. The initial symptoms often resemble the flu, sometimes followed by a slowly-spreading bull’s-eye-shaped rash from where the tick attached. Although rarely fatal, Lyme disease can cause debilitating health problems such as facial paralysis, heart palpitations, arthritis, severe headaches, and neurological disorders.
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