Cleaning Up Our Messes: Opossums to the Rescue

Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Opossums, sometimes  referred to as "possums" are a very unique animal. Visually, they are very unlike other wildlife we are accustomed to seeing around. They are also the only marsupial native to North America. This means that they carry their young in a pouch, once the young are larger they actually move onto the back of their mother where she will carry them around until they are large enough to be independent. Even more interestingly, they are relatively nomadic. Opossums do not tend to occupy territories or den or nest in locations, but rather are usually just passing through. 



Virginia Opossum. Photo by Paul Roedding (@paul_roedding_photography)
Sometimes people fear opossums due to their defence mechanisms when they feel threatened. Being nocturnal animals, their encounters with people are limited but when threatened or scared they tend to open their mouths wide to show their teeth in hopes that you will be afraid and leave. Alternatively, they also "play possum" where they actually roll onto their side, go stiff, drool and emit a foul smell, making their best attempt at looking dead so that they will be left alone by potential predators (including humans).

Opossums seem very alien-like to us in so many ways, their appearance and behaviours are not something many feel comfortable around or used to. However, they help us in ways that so many people are unaware of, so much so that The Nature of Things by David Suzuki made an entire episode on them titled "Natures Clean Up Crew", you can watch that here.  

“Nothing prepares you for an opossum. They have a face only a mother could love. Really, they are such a weird looking animal” — Suzanne MacDonald, psychologist and biologist at York University 




Our Garbage is Their Dinner: The Animal Heroes Who Clean Up Our Mess 



As it turns out, opossums can digest nearly anything, including bones, effectively cleaning up our urban areas and they do not get sick! They actually seem to be immune to many things that ail humans and other wildife including pathogens from dead or decaying animals, snake venom and Lyme disease that can be contracted from tick bites. A single opossum can eliminate up to 4,000 ticks per week from our landscapes! Now that is a valuable service. 

Often viewed as a nuisance, opossums are anything but. They are quiet, tend to fly under the radar, they are not dangerous and actually eliminate dangers from harming humans and other wildlife. They are so incredible and unique and offer a wide array of services for urban landscapes. 

As always, the more we understand them, the more whole-heartedly we can appreciate them. 


Warmly, 

Heather 

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