The Kid Should See This

Are America’s backyard opossums our disease-prevention heroes?

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Hidden amidst the verdant landscapes of Northwest Ohio’s Oak Openings Region—as well as in backyards, suburbs, and cities all across the Americas—the opossum emerges as North America’s sole marsupial, and a misunderstood ecological hero.

In this Nature on PBS video, wildlife filmmaker Alex Goetz explores the facts and dispels the myths surrounding these fuzzy white and gray animals with rat-like prehensile tails.

climbing a tree trunk
He also reveals opossums’ vital ecological benefits and their role as silent guardians against disease in our local outdoor spaces. From the video:

“Opossums should be a welcome neighbor to your backyards… Opossums are omnivores. Meaning they will eat anything from plants, fruits, and nuts to bugs, small mammals, and even roadkill. As scavengers, they clean up the environment around them of deceased animals.

“One of the best things about them though, they eat ticks, a lot of them too. It’s estimated they will eat around 5,000 a year, which helps cut back on Lyme Disease in the environment.”

Alex Goetz

“A lot of people think that opossums are disease-ridden or have rabies. It’s actually really rare for an opossum to get rabies because opossums have a lower body temperature than other mammals here in North America. Their bodies just aren’t suitable habitats for diseases like rabies.”

Opossums are also immune to toxins and venoms because a compound in their blood neutralizes these substances.

opossum night cam
The nocturnal creatures are also famous for “playing possum” or appearing to be dead. From the San Diego Zoo:

“Although the word ‘play’ suggests a conscious act, this catatonic defense mechanism is actually a completely involuntary and automatic physiological response to danger. It’s more like fainting from fright than pulling a prank on a potential predator…

“The best thing to do upon finding an injured or seemingly dead opossum is to leave it in a quiet place with a clear exit path. In minutes or hours, the opossum will likely regain consciousness and escape quietly on its own.”

opossum
Watch these related scavenger videos next:
• A raccoon demonstrates her problem solving skills
Whale Fall (After Life of a Whale)
• Where do ibis actually live?
• Vultures, the acid-puking, plague-busting heroes of the ecosystem

Plus: Marsupials and the three different ways mammals give birth.


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