If youve ever wondered, What are possums good for? well youre not the only one. These strange-looking creatures dont have the best reputation. In fact, theyre known for being pretty vicious and often get the blame when anything goes wrong in the backyard. But is it possible that weve gotten them all wrong?
This means they can eat snails, slugs, insects like cockroaches, small mammals and even reptiles like rattlesnakes, keeping all those unwanted pests including the venomous ones away from our homes and gardens .
What are the benefits of a possum?
Opossums, sometimes referred to just as possums, are a benefit to ecosystems and a healthy environment beyond eradicating ticks. They will catch and eat cockroaches, rats and mice – in addition to consuming dead animals of all types (also known as carrion).
Are possums good to have in your yard?
If there is an opossum in the backyard, don’t worry. … But far from being a nuisance, opossums can be beneficial for your garden, eating snails, slugs, insects and sometimes even small rodents. They’ll even clean up spilled garbage and fruit that has fallen off trees.
Is it good to have possums around your house?
Leave the opossum alone and enjoy watching wildlife in your own backyard. … Opossums are beneficial eating unwanted pests around your home and garden such as snails, slugs, spiders, cockroaches, rats, mice and snakes. Opossums are free gardeners!
Do opossums do anything bad?
Opossums become dangerous with their ability to transmit diseases to pets and people. Known to carry leptospirosis, tuberculosis, coccidiosis, spotted fever, tularemia, and other diseases, the pesky creatures pose serious health threats when they invade urban environments.
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With the huge rise in deer tick populations and the spread of Lyme disease, many friends of wildlife are welcoming opossums into their yards. Why? Scientists have learned that opossums act like little vacuum cleaners when it comes to ticks with a single opossum hoovering up and killing an estimated 5,000 ticks in a season.
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.
Animals Wildlife 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Opossums By Melissa Breyer Melissa Breyer Twitter Editorial Director Hunter College F.I.T., State University of New York Cornell University Melissa Breyer is Treehuggers editorial director. She is a sustainability expert and author whose work has been published by the New York Times and National Geographic, among others. Learn about our editorial process Updated April 12, 2021 Treehugger / Lara Antal Share Twitter Pinterest Email Animals Wildlife Pets Animal Rights Endangered Species The Virginia opossum has the distinction of being both the only opossum and the only marsupial native to North America. Colloquially called possums, Virginia opossums should not be confused with arboreal marsupials of Australia and New Guinea that are also known as possums. Virginia opossums are found in North America east of the Rockies and along the western coast of the United States, as well as in Central America. According to the IUCN, the population of Virginia opossums is increasing and they are not considered at risk. Due to their rat-like appearance, opossums have a less-than-stellar reputation. But these clever nocturnal critters have a lot going for them. They have a natural tolerance for snake venom and they eat parasitic ticks and garden pests. Just like their marsupial relatives, female opossums, called jills, carry joeys in their pouches. From opposable toes to an ability to feign death in an instant, discover the most fascinating facts about the opossum. 1. Opossums Are Smart Critters Although many people think opossums are not the sharpest knives in the drawer, there are several areas of intelligence in which they soar. For one, they have a remarkable ability to find food and to remember where it is. When tested, opossums outscored rats, rabbits, cats, and dogs but not humans. They also can find their way through a maze more efficiently than rats and cats. 2. They’re All Thumbs Just like humans and other primates, the opossum has the equivalent of opposable thumbs. Called a hallux, each of the opossums big toes on its hindfeet are opposable; they stand apart from the other toes in a way that looks very similar to a human hand and thumb. The hallux provides the opossum with better grasping and climbing skills than most other mammals. Unlike the opossum’s other digits, the hallux is the only one that does not have a claw. 3. They Have Impressive Tails Jay Ondreicka / Shutterstock Opossums have prehensile tails that they use like a hand or a fifth appendage. Their tails are long nearly as long as the opossums themselves and are hairless, much like a rats tail. Their tails allow them to grasp, carry, and wrap around things like tree limbs. The tail also aids in balance. Opossums can hang from their tails, but only for brief periods. 4. They Are Opportunistic Omnivores The opossum’s normal diet consists of carrion, rodents, snakes, insects, snails, slugs, birds, eggs, frogs, plants, fruits, and grains. If given the opportunity, opossums will also eat human food, pet food, and trash. They can adjust their diet based on season and location. Sanitation workers of the wild, opossums have an unusually high need for calcium, which incites them to eat the skeletons of rodents and roadkill they consume. 5. They Have Natural Defenses Joe McDonald / Getty Images When threatened, opossums run, growl, belch, urinate, and defecate. And when all else fails, they play possum and act as if theyre dead. It is an involuntary response (like fainting) rather than a conscious act. They roll over, become stiff, close their eyes (or stare with their eyes open), and bare their 50 small teeth. Saliva forms around the opossums mouth and it secretes a foul-smelling fluid from its anal glands. The catatonic state is more common in young opossums and can last for up to six hours. Adult animals are more likely to stand up to enemies or run away at speeds of around 4 miles per hour. 6. They Carry Their Young in a Pouch Just like other marsupials, female opossums, called jills, care for their offspring, called joeys, in their pouches. Young opossums are tiny at birth about the size of a bee and are blind, deaf, and furless. After a short gestation period of less than two weeks, the joeys crawl into their mothers pouch where they remain for a couple of months. After they leave the pouch, joeys remain close to their mother, often riding on her back for another few months until they become fully independent. Male opossums, known as jacks, do not participate in the care of the young. 7. They Are Always Grooming While opossums may appear unkempt, they are actually meticulous about self-care. When theyre not actively searching for food or sleeping, opossums are grooming themselves. Just like cats, opossums follow the same pattern of licking their paws and wiping their face. They clean their entire bodies, from head to tail, using their claws to comb their fur and remove insects to munch on. Female opossums are particularly fastidious about keeping their pouch clean, particularly when caring for their young. 8. They Have Natural Immunity Its a common misconception due in part to their appearance that opossums must be harbingers of disease. But in the case of rabies, opossums are rarely carriers of the deadly virus because of their naturally low body temperature. In comparison to other wild animals, opossums are much less likely to carry rabies than bats, raccoons, and skunks. However, opossums can pass diseases like leptospirosis or Salmonella to humans through their excrement. And they are frequent spreaders of fleas to domestic animals. While opossums are often stung by bees and scorpions, they have an impressive ability to tolerate those poisons. And they dont frequently catch Lyme disease, even though they are often bitten by ticks. In fact, they typically eat the ticks before they have a chance to infect them. Opossums also have superpowers against snakes. They have partial or total immunity to the venom produced by rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, and other pit vipers. In order to develop a low-cost rattlesnake antivenom, scientists are recreating the peptide found in opossums. 9. They Provide Free Pest Control Since their diet allows them to indulge on snails, slugs, and beetles, they can be a welcome addition to the garden. They also help clean up sources of pests by eating rotting fruit and vegetables. Opossums also keep rats and cockroaches at bay by competing with them for food. In fact, its common for opossums to kill cockroaches and rats if they find them in their territory. 10. They Gravitate Toward Water Opossums tend to gravitate toward living in areas with reliable water access, and they are actually quite proficient swimmers. Although they spend most of their time on land or in trees, opossums sometimes head to the water to escape predators. They can swim both underwater and along the surface, using their limbs and tail to move themselves through the water. View Article Sources Prez-Hernandez, R., et al. Didelphis virginiana. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 2016, pg. e.T40502A22176259., doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T40502A22176259.en Krause, William J., and Winifred A. Krause. The Opossum: Its Amazing Story. e-book, William Krause, 2004. Give Opossums a Break. The National Wildlife Federation. Published March 20, 2015. Didelphis virginiana: Virginia Opossum. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, Animal Diversity Web. Opossums (Didelphis virginianus). Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Rabies: A Forgotten Killer. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated June 12, 2019. Beaty, Colleen. In Defense of Opossums. Wildlife Habitat Council. Published May 16, 2017. Keesing, F., et al. Hosts as Ecological Traps for the Vector of Lyme Disease. Proc R Soc B, vol. 267, 2009, pp. 3911-3919., doi:10.1098/rspb.2009.1159 Werner, Robert M., and James A. Vick. Resistance of the Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) to Envenomation by Snakes of the Family Crotalidae. Toxicon, vol. 14, 1977, pp. 29-32., doi:10.1016/0041-0101(77)90066-6 Komives, Clarie F., et al. Opossum Peptide that Can Neutralize Rattlesnake Venom Is Expressed in Escherichia coli. Biotechnol Progress, vol. 33, 2017, pp. 81-86., doi:10.1002/btpr.2386 Creature Feature: Opossums Are Nature’s Pest Control. Forest Preserve District of Will County. Published March 1, 2019.
What Is A Possum, Exactly?
Dig into the history of the opossum, and you find some pretty interesting facts. For starters, it holds the distinction of being the only animal alive today who shared the same land with the dinosaurs, more than 70 million years ago.The opossum also holds the title of North America’s only marsupial (“pouched” mammal) – despite its appearance, it’s not related to the rat but counts the kangaroo and the koala among its closest cousins. And just like kangaroos and koalas, baby opossums stay inside their mother’s pouch to nurse and grow. When they outgrow the pouch, they ride on their mother’s back until they’re old enough to fend for themselves.
More Possum Benefits
With the huge rise in deer tick populations and the spread of Lyme disease, many friends of wildlife are welcoming opossums into their yards. Why? Scientists have learned that