Nature's Superhero the Opossum
Written by Madison Lawson
Opossums get a bad rap, seen as giant, disgusting rats or just another piece of roadkill. But the truth of the Opossum is so much better. This (arguably cute) creature is the only marsupial of North America and are the superheroes of the American backyard.
Let’s start off with some cool facts about the Opossum. First, did you know they have the equivalent of opposable toes, or “hallux,” on their back feet? They share this fact only with primates, pandas, and rats. Not even humans have opposable toes. Plus, their tails are pretty impressive. Many refer to the Opossum tail as a fifth appendage, able to grasp onto tree limbs or carry items by wrapping the tail around it. Hiding behind that prize-winning smile is an impressive 50 teeth (more than any other mammal) which may be frightening at first glance but really is one of the amazing tools in their superhero disposal.
But what else about the Opossum makes it a superhero?
Snakes, rabid animals, rats, cockroaches, and many more would be much more of a problem to people and the environment if it weren’t for Opossums. They have a natural immunity to rabies, so are monumentally less likely to carry the disease than other wild animals, including dogs. They also have a superpower against snakes – with their immunity reaching to venom of a rattlesnake, cottonmouth, and other pit vipers. They can attack, kill, and eat these deadly snakes without even suffering from a bad cough later.
They don’t stop there. Opossums are omnivores and will eat just about anything – including the pests that keep sneaking into your house or destroying your gardens. They eat the skeletons of rodents and roadkill – becoming the sanitation department you didn’t know you needed. They protect their territory and you’re in luck if that happens to be your garden because Opossums kill and eat rats and cockroaches that compete with them for food or trespass in their home.
The heroic janitors also fight against the ticks and Lyme disease that threaten many. They kill up to 90% of ticks that try to feed, slowing down the spread of Lyme disease in the process. You may not even be aware how many ticks Opossums are destroying, keeping you, your family, and your pets clear of the insects the majority of the time.
You might not want to take in an Opossum as your new family pet right now, but they are smarter than Spot sleeping on his dog bed. Opossums have tested smarter than rats, rabbits, cats, and dogs when it comes to finding and remembering where food is. Their intelligence makes them the Tony Stark of small critters and helps them find their way through mazes quicker than rats and cats and keeps them alive against the many predators of the wild.
Solitary, nocturnal, and defensive, Opossums are going largely un-thanked and unrewarded for the work they do under the cover of darkness. Next time you go on a walk with a tick-less Spot and don’t encounter a rat, snake, or smelling piece of roadkill consider sending a silent thanks to the anonymous Opossums, snoozing with a full belly of venomous snake.