Many people think that opossums are cute little animals, but they also have a reputation as pests.
Recent research has shown that because they groom themselves and eat all the ticks they find on their body, they are effective in reducing the overall numbers of ticks, which have been on the rise in recent years and they may, therefore, be stopping the spread of Lyme Disease to humans.
Scientific studies show opossums are net eradicators of ticks
A recent study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. B, the flagship biological research journal of the Royal Society, stated that ecologists believe that opossums are the most effective mammal at reducing the number of ticks in the wild. The study was commenced to learn the part that various animals play in the spread of ticks and their associated contagious diseases.
The tests were conducted on six species; white-footed mice, chipmunks, squirrels, opossums, veeries, and catbirds. The study postulated that although the white-footed mice were the chief receptacle of the Lyme bacteria, they were the natural prey of foxes who themselves are home to numerous ticks, but don’t groom themselves like cats and opossums. The opossums on the other hand, whilst also home to numerous ticks, meticulously groom themselves, catching and eating over 90% of the ticks on their bodies. Extrapolating their findings, based on the examination of the animal’s feces, the scientists estimate that in a season, each opossum can kill approximately 5,000 ticks. Overall, therefore, opossums were natural, net eradicators of ticks and could potentially reduce the spread of Lyme disease.
Opossums are effective at pest control
Opossums are marsupials that are endemic to the Americas and although there are over 100 different species of opossums, the only species found in the United States and Canada is the Virginia Opossum, where they are more commonly referred to as “possums”. They are the only marsupial found north of Mexico in North America. Opossums have outlived the dinosaurs and the species are ancient incredibly resistant to disease and immune to most types of snake venom.
They have voracious appetites and eat almost anything they come across. Their main diet is grubs, insects and even small rodents, like mice. Opossums are generally gentle, rarely showing signs of aggression and if attacked generally lie motionless, pretending to be dead, hence the etymology of the phrase, “playing possum”. Homeowners that keep chickens are not as sympathetic to the little creatures however as they will eat eggs, unprotected chicks and have even been known to kill fully grown hens. This recent research has however highlighted that having opossums around may actually be good for the environment, so if you see one feigning death on the road, don’t run them over, think of what they’re doing for pest control in your area.
The following video provides an explanation of their eating habits and why they are effective at pest control:
Lyme disease rates are increasing
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread to humans by the bite of an infected tick, it can’t be passed from human to human contact. The bacteria that cause Lyme disease can damage joints and the nervous system. If the facial nerves are affected, the infected person may suffer from a facial palsy on one side of their face. Recent years have seen the number of these tick-borne diseases on the rise as numbers of ticks have also rapidly increased.
Ecologists and scientists agree that although the research has proven that opossums eat numerous ticks every year and this can be extrapolated to potential prevention of spreading Lyme disease to humans, their actual effect on the Lyme Disease infection rates has not been determined.