Do Opossums Eat Ticks?

Do Opossums Eat Ticks?

Opossums, a suborder of 70 tree-living marsupial species in the US, can navigate tall trees with surprising agility and aplomb. Opossums hide in dark areas such as attics, sheds, and garages and cause damage and destruction to gardens, farms, forests, and equipment. 

They are no dangerous species to humans on their own, but they can spread some diseases when they pierce our skin with their sharp claws. It is best to keep them away from the residential area. They are omnivorous animals. 

Now, we can discuss some facts and characteristics of opossums and how they will become a trap for ticks.  

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Are the Opossums An Ecological Trap For Pests?

Some of the beliefs about opossums (members of the marsupial order Didelphimorphia endemic to America) are that they eat ticks, help cut back on Lyme Disease in the environment, and act like little vacuum cleaners when it comes to ticks.

But it is necessary to check whether these beliefs are true or not!

A study in 2021 on Virginia opossums revealed some facts. Virginia opossums serve as hosts to many ectoparasite species, and the previous research states that they eat around 5500 larval ticks per week. 

  • Note: Ectoparasites – a taxonomically diverse group of organisms that infest the human and other skin. 

To check the fact, the members of the study crew have analyzed the stomach content of 32 Virginia opossums from central Illinois. But they failed in finding ticks or tick parts in the stomach contents of Virginia opossums. They have used various methods to check the traces of ticks in their stomach. But none of the techniques show any evidence.   

Evidence To Spotlight Opossum Eating Ticks

The rise in deer tick populations and the spread of Lyme disease is a cause to welcome opossums into our yards. One belief is that they kill the vast majority – more than 95% percent of the ticks that try to feed on them. Thus, they protect our health by walking around the forest floor, hoovering up ticks right and left. 

Everything is right! But do opossums eat ticks?. This opossum-eating-ticks theory started with a study report in 2009. In that study, members in New York placed mammals and birds ( including white-footed mice, chipmunks, gray squirrels, opossums, catbirds, and veer) into cages with 100 larval ticks.

After four days, they found that squirrels and opossums seemed to rid themselves of the most ticks. They killed 83 to 96.5 percent of the ticks, whereas opossums killed more. Thus, they concluded that opossums eat up to 5,500 ticks each season, making them an ecological trap for ticks.

Eradication Of Ticks And Benefits Of Opossums

  • Tick populations increased in the U.S in the last few years. They are the carriers of various diseases like Lyme disease, tick-borne disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, etc. The most appreciated benefit of opossums is their ability to eradicate ticks. The appearance and nocturnal lifestyle of opossum make it so unappealing. But they are helpful compared to other types of wildlife as they play an essential role in the ecosystem and act as a valuable asset to your garden. 
  • Opossums help you get rid of small insects and pests from your garden. 
  • As omnivores, they consume various foods like beetles, slugs, and snails that damage garden plants.
  • Another benefit to having these creatures around is they eat plant matter. They prefer fallen or rotting vegetation and cleaning up dropped fruits and vegetables, which can harbor disease. 
  • They can hunt and kill mice, rats, and poisonous snakes and clean up dead animal carcasses. 
  • Opossums will not spread diseases like rabies and botulism, as they have a resistance to those diseases.

Are The Misconceptions About Opossums Eating Ticks True?

Like any other pests, opossums also attract some parasites like the black-legged tick or deer tick. We know that the black-legged tick is the primary carrier of Lyme disease. During the late summer, opossums could be infested with hundreds of ticks.

Here the question is, do possums eat ticks? Still, no clear evidence is available to prove that opossums eat ticks. Many studies state that there is no evidence that opossums eat a significant number of ticks. So when someone says the opossum-tick-eating thing, it is wrong. 

Yes! Of course, the belief that opossums eat tons of ticks has improved the way people perceive them. This belief encouraged many people to rethink their desire to harm them. But the truth is opossums do not eat a lot of ticks. But still, they matter and play an essential role in our environment. 

  • Opossums are helpful to ecosystems and a healthy environment as they will catch and eat cockroaches, rats, and mice. They are resistant to snake venom, copperheads, and rattlesnakes. 
  • Opossums can minimize the chances of encountering venomous species near your home.
  • Adult opossums are active at night and live in the burrow and cavities. They freeze and lie still as death when frightened or harmed. 

Prevention From Opossums And Ticks

Prevention from opossums:

  • Cover all the available unwanted openings in your house that possums can use to gain access. Use wire mesh for large holes and slotted vent covers to provide ventilation holes.
  • Cut down your tree branches to at least 50ft from the rooftop of your home, as the possums can use the overhanging branches to access your house. They are good at climbing.
  • Use grid screens and other suitable barriers that protect your low decks from possums.
  • When you leave outdoor bins uncovered at night, it will attract possums and other wild animals due to the presence of food. So always cover your outdoor bin area.
  • Proper clean-up of leftover food on your property is necessary. Clear the things immediately from barbecues to avoid attracting wild animals and possums.

Prevention from ticks:

You can keep away ticks by following simple landscape changes and creating an unfriendly environment for different ticks and hosts. 

  • Ticks love to stay in the underbrush of tall grass. There they latch onto a host and crawl up the body. Trim your lawns at home to avoid this scenario. 
  • Walk in the center of the trails and clean leaf litter around the edge of your yard and home regularly.
  • Building a barrier between lawns and wooded areas prevents ticks away from the residential areas. 
  • Spraying pesticides on ticks minimizes their exposure. Always ensure to use the best pesticide. Spray the pesticide in the correct proportion and at the right time of year.
  • Today, many repellents are available in the market to keep ticks away. You can use both natural and chemical repellents based on your need. Natural repellents include ones made from garlic oil, mixed essential oils, and fungus. 
  • Permethrin is a chemical that paralyzes and kills ticks. A study report by the University of Rhode Island states that when people wear permethrin-treated socks and shoes, they will get 74 times more protected from ticks latching onto their shoes and legs.
  • If you have been in a grassy or wooded area, take a bath and clean your body. Within 2 hours of being outside, take a bath and reduce the risk of Lyme disease. Check hairline, ears, back of neck, armpits, waistline, legs, knees, and toes.
  • Ticks can enter your home through your pets. Check them regularly for ticks.

Conclusion: 

Summer is the best time for outdoor activities and the high season for ticks. Ticks are notorious for their bites, and they can transmit diseases. Many think that possums are natural predators that eat ticks. There are many study reports available to prove that. But the truth is that they do not eat most of the ticks. Even though they are more ecological in keeping our life balance, there is no proper available evidence proving that possums eradicate ticks.