Opossoms: underappreciated creatures of the night


As a population, we tend to have an aversion towards things that don’t look pretty, and that’s not entirely unwarranted. But some furry creatures, such as opossums, are very beneficial to city and suburban ecosystems. They are fascinating animalswith many little-known benefits to your lifeand we should care about them more. 

For starters, many people believe “possums” are pesky creatures, harmful to a peaceful backyard environment. This is mainly untrue, and the very nature of the notion shows how little people care to know about them. Opossums are commonly called possums in North America, but the name “possum” refers to a different species that lives in Australia. These cute little quadrupeds are falsely blamed for many of the misfortunes of the world, and to call them the wrong name on top of that is quite disrespectful.

A common misconception is the idea that opossums should be feared for spreading rabies. However, opossums rarely spread the disease. Their tough immune systems let them stop many diseases from spreading, including rabies and lyme disease. In fact, opossums do a lot to lower the rates of lyme disease in their habitats, rather than increase it. Opossums eat an average of 5,500 larval ticks per week, ticks which are the most common way lyme disease is spread. 

Not only are opossums tick vacuums, they help ecosystem clean-up with their wide palettes. Opossums eat fruits, berries and vegetables, but instead of going for prized and pristine fresh produce, they prefer the fallen crop which has already started to go bad. Opossums also scavenge for carrion (dead animals), so they will help ecosystem cleanup in that way as well. The opossum digestive process is very tough and helps break down all sorts of matter, from bones to diseases. This means your local opossums will help keep your pets and any unwary children safe. 

Another false belief is the idea that opossums are a more physical danger to your pets or children. Opossums are generally docile animals, and prefer to avoid conflict. They will typically only bite or scratch in extreme cases of self defense, usually preferring to “play dead”. Opossums are more likely to try to scare predators away by baring their teeth and hissing than trying to fight. However, in most cases they would rather play dead and avoid confrontation. 

Additionally, opossums are commonly compared to creatures they aren’t related to, or don’t behave like. A common connection is between opossums and raccoons. If an animal made a mess of your garbage cans outside, and you need someone to blame, it was much more likely a raccoon than an opossum. Opossums will, however, go through trash left out, about and unattended. Even if they won’t go through your trash bins making messes like racoons, they will take their pick from whatever the racoons get out. 

Finally, opossums are simply interesting animals. They are North America’s only marsupial, which means they carry their young in a pouch like a kangaroo. When babies get a little bit older and bigger, they will ride on their mother’s back while she hunts and scavenges. Opossums are nocturnal, and live in a variety of places. Opossums are widely adaptable and can live in trees, abandoned dens, under porches, and in a variety of other places. Opossums have an interesting appearance as well, featuring a rat-like tail, a long nose, and thumbs. 

In general, public opinions on opossums are vastly uneducated, and it is unfair to these interesting creatures. They help habitats and ecosystems, keeping pets and kids safe and cleaning up rotting plant matter and animals.