While opossums have a tenuous reputation among mankind, the toothy critters provide surprising benefits that can protect humans from disease. North America’s only marsupial has a varied diet that includes frogs, worms, and conveniently, ticks that may carry Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections. This helps to limit the potential for humans to encounter bacterial or viral infections that can significantly hamper one’s health and quality of life
Not yet sold on the idea of opossums lurking around your neighbourhood? Consider rethinking the antiquated idea that opossums are a hazardous pest. Like most other small to medium sized mammals, opossums serve as a host for ticks looking to feast on blood. Ticks require blood to survive so short legged elongated furry body of an opossum is a perfect tick feeding site- opossums can be classified as nature’s tick magnets. The good new is that opossums are noted for being able to eliminate up to 90% to 95% of ticks that attempt to feed on them. This is because they groom themselves fastidiously like cats, meaning they end up licking and digesting the vast majority of ticks that mistakenly choose them as a host. Think again, ticks. In fact, scientists conducted a study to find out which of six species were the best at eliminating ticks – between white-footed mice, chipmunks, squirrels, veerys, and catbirds, it was the opossum that blew away the competition. A single opossum is estimated to be capable of eliminating up to 5,000 ticks in a season.
As Rick Ostfield, world renown tick expert and senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem studies explains, “in a way, opossums are the unsung heroes in the Lyme Disease epidemic”. The opossum may be most infamous for playing dead, but its real strength lies in its ability to assist in minimizing the likelihood for humans encountering disease carrying ticks.