Maybe you think opossums look like big rats that might carry disease, or maybe you think they are super cute. In any case, it turns out they are tick killing machines that can eliminate up to 90% of the ticks they encounter. Like cats, Opossums groom themselves quite frequently and quickly (I mean really quickly) eat any ticks found on their bodies.
The study which was done a few years ago found that of the six tick-eating animals tested (white-footed mice, chipmunks, squirrels, opossums and veerys and catbirds), opossums were the clear winners. A single opossum could eat over 5,500 ticks in a season!
Opossums are also remarkably resistant to disease themselves (rarely are they rabid) and are usually gentle creatures, making them excellent garden companions and good neighbors to have (contrary to popular belief, possums do not typically raid gardens, they do, however, act as janitors and clean up any rotten fruits or vegetables—you’d more likely find them raiding your compost heap). They are also rarely aggressive and most of us know that they will usually play dead when attacked.
Here’s a great video that explains what opossums really eat and why they might be really great to have around your backyard:
According to Laura Simon, a wildlife ecologist with the U.S. Humane Society: “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.” The only instance where you might not want one around is when you raise chickens as some people have reported witnessing Opossums attacking and killing their chickens on occasion.
What does this mean for us? Due to climate disruption and other factors, tick populations along with the diseases they can carry (about 15, including Lyme Disease), are spreading rapidly. These tick-borne illnesses are often difficult to diagnose and treat and many in the medical community suspect that there’s a silent epidemic of these illnesses, especially Lyme Disease. If scientists can convince the public to let opossums go about their business and not kill or harass them, these stable populations could be a natural way to help control the spread of these devastating and now widespread illnesses.