• Brae Buckner


    When you think of the Virginia opossum (or possum), you typically think of a sharp toothed, rat-like, trash digger. The opossum has never been the top choice when someone mentions “cute” animals in the wild, but did you know how important these unique creatures are to our ecosystem?

    The Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) is one of the longest surviving mammals on the planet. Opossums have been around for over 70 million years! On top of that, they are North America’s only marsupial, which means they raise their young in their pouch until they are old enough to follow mom and find their own food. They use their prehensile tails to help them climb trees in search of food or shelter, which means that opossums can be found in almost every habitat type in the southeast. Their rat-like tail, mouth full of sharp teeth, and tendency to eat garbage might not win them first place in a beauty pageant, but when it comes to their importance to their environment, they come in first every time.

  • Opossums have been studied in recent years due to one of their most important traits: an immunity to pit viper venom. That’s right, opossums can consume rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths without being susceptible to their venom. One protein in the opossums’ DNA is being studied to create a more cost-effective antivenom that has the potential to save countless lives in developing countries. In addition to their ability to withstand venomous snakes, opossums also eat over 5,000 ticks per season. That means that the little yard varmint you keep shooing away could actually be saving your family from Lyme disease. They eat over 90% of the ticks that latch on to them, as well as consuming carrion (deceased animals) and even some small mammals, both of which harbor potentially life-threatening ticks. Another important trait to note about the opossum is that it is almost 100% immune to rabies. The average body temperature of an opossum is around 95° F, which makes it extremely difficult for the animal to carry rabies.

    Many people trap and kill opossums when managing for turkey habitats, due to the fact that opossums have been known to consume turkey eggs. Many wildlife species consume turkey eggs, and predator eradication is expensive, time consuming, and nearly impossible to accomplish. Unless your property is somehow completely overrun with opossums, you might want to consider weighing the benefits of having opossums on your property against the handful of turkey eggs that may be lost. As Aldo Leopold said, “A habitat that cannot support a healthy game population in spite of predators is simply not a good habitat.”

    The Virginia opossum is a magnificently misunderstood creature that deserves our respect and gratitude. If not for nature’s furry vacuum, our roadways would be piled high with roadkill, our yards would be overrun with unwanted insects, and the risk of Lyme disease would increase dramatically. Take the time to learn more about the wildlife in your area, and you just might be able to turn your aversion into affection.