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5/23/16- Tick Vacuums

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by Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist

About two weeks ago, I had the misfortune of trapping a possum (Didelphis virginiana) in a foothold trap. I didn’t think much of it; all they’re good for is eating trash and turkey eggs anyway. Boy was I wrong! Just yesterday I read an article about how beneficial possums are to the ecosystem. That article started a snowball effect and I have read SEVERAL articles. I am completely stunned about all the great ecological benefits these creatures provide and how little publicity this organism receives. I am determined to change the way I see possums from here on out and I think you will too. Although ugly, possums greatly affect the tick population; resist rabies and rattlesnake venom, and produce offspring in record time.

Ticks

Possums are tick eating fools. As they scamper along the ground, especially during the warmer months, ticks cling to their fur and soon make their way to the skin and begin to feast. As possums comb through their hair in the grooming process, they lick away and swallow all the ticks that they come across. According to the National Wildlife Federation, one possum can ingest and kill nearly 4,000 ticks in a week. That is almost 600 ticks a day! They also eat ticks that possess Lyme disease, decreasing the Lyme carrying ticks population with just a swallow. They also are resistant to Lyme disease if bitten by an infected tick.

Rattlesnakes

To add to my surprise, I learned that possums eat rattlesnakes like they’re jelly beans. They are also immune to their venom and many scientists are conducting studies to construct an anti-venom using possum blood. So not only are possums resistant to Lyme disease, they are resistant to snake venom and even bee stings (and rabies).

Baby possums

I did know that possums were marsupials and carried their young in pouches…but it is a must see. It wasn’t until that tragic foothold mishap did I see baby possums in a pouch. It was quite disturbing, but amazing at the same time. After doing some research, I learned that possums have the shortest gestation period of any mammal-12 days. That means mature females create no more than eight babies in only 12 days! These ugly little creatures are quite the ecological underdog.

I am shocked to learn all of these amazing facts and many more about the ugly ole possum (and I only scratched the surface, there are more interesting facts). I believe that there should be more publicity for these creatures because if there was, people would see them in a different light. With that being said, take time to look into a species profile on the possum; it won’t disappoint. The possum may not win a beauty contest any time soon, but our woods would not be the same without them! So, before you swerve into the other lane to purposely hit a possum, think about how greatly they impact our ecosystem.

By: Meaghan English

My name is Meaghan English, a wildlife specialist with TrueSouth. I graduated from Auburn University with a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Ecology and Management and I have grown up with a passion for hunting. I knew from an early age that I was not only interested in the harvesting of wildlife, but I was also very interested in their biology and management. I decided that I not only wanted to be a wildlife enthusiast, I want to be an educated wildlife specialist. I will be using that grand education as a member of the TrueSouth team contributing wildlife blog articles!

My first hunting memory flashes back to when I was six or seven years old. Like any other Saturday during deer season, my dad had told my mom to get me ready because we were going hunting. Of course I was ecstatic! I was not ecstatic about the hair bow my mom made me wear with my camouflage (she wanted everyone to know I was in fact a fashionable girl). The entire way to Perdue Hill, Alabama, my dad told me that today would be the first day I would actually shoot my first deer and I knew I was ready. We pulled up to the camp, unloaded, and fed all the “camp cats”. Before we headed to our stand, I had spotted three kittens that I simply could not leave behind so I stuffed them in my jacket. After walking what seemed like five miles, we finally made it to the “Pressbox stand” (with my smuggled kittens) and sat down. Dad continuously pestered me to be quiet, but I wasn’t that worried about shooting a deer, I had kittens! Eventually, the sun began to sink behind the trees and a spike (without olfactory senses) entered the field. When it was safe to quietly move, dad handed me the gun and I handed him my three kittens. I slowly pulled the gun up and placed my cheek against the stock. Dad told me to breathe slowly and pull the trigger when I was ready. Sure enough, I pulled the trigger and the spike hit the ground. We high-fived, exchanged kittens again, and climbed down to see the kill. It certainly was not a wall hanger, but a huge chapter in my life was started that night. My dad and I still hunt together to this day and we practice quality deer management at all times.

My ultimate goal is to provide clients with a survey of flora and fauna that currently inhabit a specific tract of land and, if desired, how to properly manage that land for the species that are found there. All feedback is greatly appreciated and I look forward to working with you!

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