Are possums our savior against disease?
Here at A Wildlife Pro we love possums. Opossums are a large part of our work and daily lives. Despite that I have long perceived them as hideous, I've grown to respect these unique creatures. Biologically speaking, they have a number of interesting characteristics that people generally do not know about. For instance, opossums have an incredible immune system. When people see a possum in their back yard they call us panicking that it will give their dog Rabies. The fact is, Rabies is extremely rare in opossums, so much so that they are generally considered not to be a carrier for the disease.
I still think these primitive animals are about as attractive and intelligent as a box of rocks. The very young babies are pretty cute though, as seen in my photo here. But America's only marsupial is nature's clean up crew, and like all wildlife they serve an important part of the ecosystem. Here is an article I just read that shares some info on how they lower the spread of Lyme disease.
Why you should brake for opossums
The Virginia opossum is not the brightest of animals. When they are threatened, they pretend to be dead, which is where we get the expression "playing opossum." Sometimes, they do this in response to threats from oncoming traffic, which results in opossums becoming roadkill.
The next time you see a opossum playing dead on the road, try your best to avoid hitting it. Because it turns out that opossums are allies in the fight against Lyme disease.
Possums, like many other small and medium sized mammals, are hosts for ticks looking for a blood meal. But opossums are remarkably efficient at eliminating foraging ticks.
"In a way, opossums are the unsung heroes in the Lyme Disease epidemic."
Rick Ostfeld, author of a book on Lyme disease ecology and a senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, explains...
"Because many ticks try to feed on opossums and few of them survive the experience. Opossums are extraordinarily good groomers it turns out – we never would have thought that ahead of time – but they kill the vast majority – more than 95% percent of the ticks that try to feed on them. So these opossums are walking around the forest floor, hoovering up ticks right and left, killing over 90% of these things, and so they are really protecting our health."
So it's in our best interest to have opossum neighbors. This means keeping their habitat intact with thoughtful land use planning, tolerating them in our yards, and, whenever possible, avoiding opossum collisions.
This article is courtesy of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. Original material available at http://www.caryinstitute.org/discover-ecology"
Produced in collaboration with WAMC Northeast Public Radio, this podcast originally aired on July 23, 2012. To access a full archive of Earth Wise podcasts, visit: www.earthwiseradio.org.
Here is another blog entry on fieldandstream.com that is based on the above article: