Photo credit: Mike Keeling via Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

When you think of adorable, friendly critters you’d invite to your backyard, bunnies, fawns, and chipmunks may come to mind. But beady-eyed, pointy-nosed, rat-tailed opossums probably don’t rank high on the list.

Misunderstood Marsupial

The only marsupial native to North America is not necessarily a beloved neighbor, thanks to its odd appearance and its frightening habit of hissing when threatened. But it turns out there is a good reason to welcome them into your garden to stay a while.

Opossums are often seen as a threat, but the fact is they are rarely aggressive. Part of the reason opossums have a bad reputation is because of their well-known trick of playing dead when startled by a predator. They freeze up and froth at the mouth, which causes many people to associate opossums with rabies. However, they are actually resistant to rabies.

Opossums eat ticks

In addition to being relatively harmless, the opossum is also one of our greatest allies in fending off ticks that carry Lyme disease. This is because they are very thorough groomers and they eliminate most of the ticks that may be hitching a ride.

Rick Ostfeld, a scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, explains that opossums kill a vast majority of the ticks that try to feed on them. “These opossums are walking around the forest floor, hoovering up ticks right and left, killing over 90 percent of these things, and so they are really protecting our health,” Ostfeld says.

How many ticks do opossums eat in a year?

Not all animals are as effective at getting rid of ticks. Of six species exposed to ticks for a study—white-footed mice, chipmunks, opossums, veerys, and catbirds—opossums were much better than all the others at grooming and eating ticks. The study concluded that an opossum can kill about 5,000 ticks in one season.

So, it may actually be a major benefit to you and your family to keep opossums around. The Dallas Fort Worth Wildlife Coalition explains that this critter is a great groundskeeper.

Facts to know about opossums

  • If they are not provoked, they will not attack pets or other wildlife.
  • They won’t chew on telephone or electrical wires.
  • They don’t spread disease.
  • They don’t dig up flower bulbs.
  • They don’t go through trash cans.
  • They help control insects, venomous snakes, and unwanted rodents.

How to attract opossums to your yard

If you have opossums living in your neighborhood, think twice before calling animal control. You could even go as far as building opossum nesting boxes so they will want to move in to your yard. To create an inviting environment for opossums, consider transforming your property into a Certified Wildlife Garden with the National Wildlife Federation. Letting opossums call your garden home may help protect you and your family from ticks and Lyme disease.

If you need professional help controlling ticks or other pests, contact DC Mosquito Squad today.

Related articles:

Infographic: The 5 Most Common Myths About Ticks
Lyme Disease Signs and Symptoms
Are Mice the Bearers of Bad News?
Bats and Other Mosquito Predators
Lyme Spotlight Series