There are misconceptions about opossums that led people to consider them as pests. Some even believe that these wild creatures are dirty, gross and are carriers of rabies. But this photo captured by a trail cam will change the way you look at opossums. The photo shows an opossum helping clean a deer by picking ticks off its face. This moment doesn’t only demonstrate a symbiotic relationship between two different species. But also shows the other side of opossums that most of us don’t know.
The photo was posted by the Vermont Wildlife Coalition and it quickly became viral on the internet. Thanks to the photo, people’s perception on the ‘misunderstood’ animal is now gradually changing. The Opossum Awareness & Advocacy has been trying to educate the public about opossums, even convincing people to stop killing them if they see one. And the viral photo has given the organization the best opportunity to enlighten everyone that opossums are not what we think they are.
A trail cam captures a beautiful moment between an opossum and a deer
“Historically, many believed opossums were giant rodents that spread rabies, due to the fact they do like a bit like rats (especially their tails). Historically, people would kill them as pests and also eat them. There are several areas where people still do kill them and see them as pests. Some people see them as pests due to the fact that opossums seek warmth in the colder months and can make homes in basements and attics.”, a representative for the Opossum Awareness & Advocacy said.
Let’s try to rectify these misconceptions one by one. First of all, opossums are not rodents. Although they look like rodents, they are not related to mice or rats. As a matter of fact, opossums are marsupials that are related to kangaroos, koala and other pouched animals. Yes, opossums have rudimentary pouches which are basically skin folds. Just like kangaroos, female opossums also carry their young in their pouches.
One of the main reasons why people detest opossums is because of the notion that they spread rabies. But this scientific fact might surprise you. These marsupials have a low body temperature which makes it difficult for the rabies virus to survive. Furthermore, these critters have a strong immune system that can eradicate rabies viruses if ever they come in contact with a carrier. Therefore, the chance of rabies in opossums is extremely rare.
Why Are Opossums Associated With Garbage?
Opossums are often associated with garbage because they are usually found tipping the trash cans and digging up the garbage. This is why people see these critters as one of the filthiest and most disgusting animals. But here’s the truth. Opossums actually feed on small rodents, worms, insects, slugs, snails and even snakes. If you see them scavenging the garbage, they’re actually eating up the rats, worms, bugs and other tiny crawlers in it. In fact, they are actually helping us get rid of the dirty, disease-carrying animals such as rats and insects.
And as shown from the trail cam photo, ticks are also one of their favorite snacks. On average, an opossum kills thousands of ticks every week. They wander through the woods to get ticks on them, just to groom them off and eat them. The huge rise of tick infestations in the wildlife has resulted to the spread of Lyme disease particularly among deer. So, when infested deer are in need of a little help, they tend to turn to opossums to get rid of the pesky ticks.
Lyme disease caused by the bacterium which is spread by ticks doesn’t only affect deer but also other mammals as well. Of course, humans are no exception to this disease. Ticks are the only transmitters of Lyme disease. Apparently, the only way to stop this disease permanently is to eradicate all ticks. And opossums are a great help to reduce the infestation. By helping each other, the opossum and the deer on the trail cam photo manifest a balance that can benefit both of them.
Now that your perception on opossums has changed, you’re probably considering having them as pets. But trust us when we say, that would be a very bad idea. While it’s true that they’re immune to rabies, they can potentially carry other diseases such as leptospirosis and Chagas disease. And just like most wildlife animals, they tend to be infested with fleas, mites and lice. While they’re mostly aloof, they can attack humans if they feel threatened.
Here’s what people have to say about the relationship between the opossum and the deer