Our Nocturnal, Reclusive Neighbors: How Opossums Benefit Our Health and Environment

You don’t have to travel outside the U.S. to find a marsupial. We already have one of our own: the opossum. Often maligned and misunderstood, these critters are, in fact, quite helpful… in addition to being cute, what with carrying their babies in their pouches and “playing possum” or pretending to be dead when they’re stressed out. (Who can’t relate?!) Here are some benefits opossums provide to our gardens, our yards, and even our health!

They Help Your Garden and Serve as Pest Control

Closeup of opossum

Much like the unfairly criticized bat, opossums are great for your garden! They eat snails, slugs, bugs, rats, and mice that can disturb what you’ve planted. They also find rotting fruit irresistible and will eat up any piece that has fallen off a tree or bush, lessening the likelihood of earwigs and fruit flies. To add another touch of cute to this: They’ll clean up after eating, much like a house cat.

They Kill Ticks… and Lots of Them

Ticks are a concern anytime you venture into tall grass or around leaf litter. Their bites carry with them health risks, so you definitely want to avoid them. Opossums can give you a hand there… or a paw. Ticks are another thing opossums can clear out. Due to their stellar grooming skills, they kill an estimated 95% of the ticks that try to feed on them.

Opossum running down dirt path

They May Help Lower Our Risk of Certain Diseases

Due to their tick extermination prowess, opossums help lower our risk of Lyme disease, which is transmitted via tick bite. Though their defensive hiss makes some people assume they have rabies, they’re actually rarely infected with that, either. That may be due to their lower body temperature, which makes it more difficult for the virus to survive.

They’re Immune to Many Venomous Snakes and Could Hold Secrets to Combatting Venom

In addition to their relative resistance against rabies, opossums have another interesting resistance: to many types of snake venom. As a result, they can eat copperheads and rattlesnakes. This helps in two ways: lowering our risk of encountering them around our home, and possibly helping scientists better understand how to counteract venom.

Mother opossum with her young

They Keep the Place Clean

As mentioned before, opossums will eat fruit fallen from trees and bushes. That’s not the only cleanup service they provide, though. They’ll eat just about anything, including garbage and carrion. They often snatch up roadkill, which unfortunately often leads them to become roadkill themselves. Their ability to eat so much stems from a strong digestive system, which can even digest animal bones. All this snacking keeps urban environments healthier.

They Do All These Things Under the Cover of Night

Much like many of the other do-gooders, opossums do their work in a clandestine fashion, mostly under the cover of night. They’re nocturnal so are primarily active when it’s dark, though you may occasionally see them during the day. They’re also loners, usually traveling by themselves unless it’s a mother with her young, and quite reclusive. Maybe that’s why they don’t get the thanks they deserve for all their hard work.

Opossum at night
People, Pets & Planet

Help where it’s needed most at GreaterGood for free!