Opossums have a horrible reputation; they’re often seen as dirty, ugly, and just plain gross. But contrary to what many people think, there are definitely some positive attributes to the opossum — the only marsupial found in the United States and Canada.
Unlike other small wild mammals, opossums almost never contract or spread rabies. They are also surprisingly clean — they clean themselves as often as cats do.
And opossums LOVE to eat ticks. Sure, it’s not the most appetizing diet, but ticks spread Lyme disease and other illnesses (plus they’re genuinely gross), so opossums are helping everyone out (including humans) by eating them.
“Opossums are unusual in that they turn out to eat ticks, to kill ticks at a really, really high rate,” biologist Felicia Keesing explained to the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. “We found that the average opossum kills thousands of ticks every week wandering through the forest… If an opossum got a hundred ticks on it, say, about ninety-six of those would get killed in the process of trying to find a place to feed on that opossum.”
Sometimes, opossums even eat ticks directly off of other animals.
A trail camera in Vermont captured a photo of an opossum eating ticks straight from a “willing” deer’s head. The Vermont Wildlife Coalition shared the photo on Facebook, writing: “Opossums can eat up to 5000 ticks in a 2-3 month period, and are resistant to rabies due to their low body temperature. Excellent allies in curbing this particular lyme disease vector.”
In addition to ticks, opossums eat snakes, slugs, and other garden pests — they’re helpful little guys all around!
Just don’t try and pet one.