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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: Red Clay

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