Fighting Lyme Disease: Behold, The Lowly Possum

Fighting Lyme Disease:  Behold, The Lowly Possum

Possums aren’t the most intelligent of animals. We all recognize that, and make use of the expression “playing possum” because of their habit of pretending to be dead when they feel threatened. They’re all too often seen, actually dead, on and along roads. There, they played dead in response to threat from oncoming traffic, and ended up being dead for real. If you’re lucky enough to have a persimmon tree nearby, you might see one of them reaching for a frost bitten fruit in the Fall. Most often, though, where most people see them is as a squishy mess on road surfaces. That’s too bad, really, because they are unsung heroes in the fight being waged against Lyme Disease. With their relatively sparse hair covering, and their habit of foraging in weedy and brushy areas, possums often become hosts for ticks desiring a blood meal. Rick Ostfeld, author of a book on Lyme disease ecology and a senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, explains….”Many ticks try to feed on opossums and few of them survive the experience. Opossums are extraordinarily good groomers and kill the vast majority, more than 95 percent, of the ticks that try to feed on them. So these opossums are walking around the forest floor, hoovering up ticks right and left, killing over 90 percent of these things, and so they are really protecting our health.” * With the prevalance of Lyme Disease, it’s therefore in our best interest to have possum neighbors. This means keeping their habitat intact with thoughtful land use planning, tolerating them in our yards, and whenever possible, avoiding running over them with our vehicles. When I brought this to my granddaughters’ attention, they were not so happy with my assessment. They don’t like possums as neighbors because the girls keep a small flock of laying hens, and possums have a taste for hen’s eggs when they can get at them. The girls agreed, though, that as long as the possums don’t get in their hen house the strange looking marsupials would be welcome in their neighborhood. They decided that the good work done by possums in keeping disease-carrying ticks off outdoor pets and wildlife frequenting the area would be a good trade-off. *

3 thoughts on “Fighting Lyme Disease: Behold, The Lowly Possum

  1. I did not know this about possums! I love them even more! There is so much we don’t understand about the balance of everything. I love it when they breed and raise their young under our shed . . . unfortunately the babies must learn my dogs think they are tasty snacks. I try very hard to manage this. Hooray for the possum!

    • Thank-you for reading the post Karen. Glad you found out something new about possums. They’re not very attractive animals, but serve a very definite purpose in the balance of nature. Hope you dogs find a different, less catastrophic snack. :>)

      • I think they are adorable. Rarely do my dogs murder one . . . the playing possum works really well and I get the dogs in and the possum runs away. Enjoyed your post. Glad to see some one else likes the possum1

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