An Impossumible Feast

Common possum

Recently, my son and I had an uncanny wildlife encounter in our backyard. We watched as something furry and grey waddled through the small strip of greenspace behind our home. With its long snout and skinny rat-like tail, we quickly realized this was not a cat!

Thanks to my son’s love for a new nature television show, we knew this had to be an opossum. And what remarkable timing! I had just been exploring the link between climate change and human health in preparation for our upcoming webinar series. Coincidentally, the opossum and its curious diet play a role in this discussion.

The opossum is often called nature’s waste and pest control. They’ll eat almost anything, including ticks. These small arachnids feed on mammal (including human), bird, reptile and amphibian blood. Most species attach themselves using a glue-like substance created from their saliva, making it difficult for them to fall off. They also carry and spread disease.

Rising temperatures due to climate change have created favourable conditions for ticks. Warmer weather means longer breeding seasons and fewer tick deaths during winter. We’re seeing more active tick populations across larger geographical areas and an increase in reported cases of tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease.

While animals like deer, moose and cattle suffer from tick infestations, other animals can benefit. Most notably, the opossum. This unsung hero of the woods is resistant to Lyme disease and can eat up to 5,000 ticks in a season!

Scientists continue to study the complex relationships between climate, animal populations and human activity to better understand our risk for disease. You can learn more about how climate change could affect your health at our upcoming three-part webinar series for rural property owners. Get a local perspective on climate change and discover what you can do to protect your health, property and community.

Climate Change & Your Health – Extreme Heat – May 29, 12 p.m.

Climate Change & Your Health – Disease – June 6, 10 a.m.

Climate Change & Your Health – Severe Weather – June 11, 7 p.m.

By CVC’s Alison Qua-Enoo, Senior Coordinator, Rural Residential Outreach and Josh Brooks, Program Assistant, Rural Landowner Outreach

Feature photo by David. A Hofmann

Comments (5)

  1. We saw opossums on our farm in the Town of Erin a few years ago. Interesting to see they appear to be coming more frequently When we saw them they looked a bit frost-bitten on their ears!

  2. We haven’t seen any for years. We would two possums, swinging in the cedar trees by their tails and ‘talking’ to each other. It was lovely.
    Later a possum died in the loafing area of the barn. Since then, nothing. I don’t even see them ‘playing possum’ at the side of the road these days. Nice to hear, they are still around.

  3. There is a particular cedar tree in woods where we walk..about halfway between Erin village and Trafalgar Road. About 4 years ago we disturbed a groundhog at the base of the tree, which amazingly scrambled clumsily up the tree to horrizontal branches about 8 feet up. It stopped and then promptly fell to the ground, got up and looked at us so we moved on. About a year later we disturbed a possum low down on the same tree. The possum shot up the tree up to about 40 feet up before stopping to watch us. Why the same tree we wonder.

  4. Not everybody is thrilled to see them.

    Equine protozoal myelitis (EPM) is a parasitic disease that affects the nervous system of horses.  EPM is associated with the protozoan Sarcocystis neurona, and the disease is generally identified in horses in areas inhabited by opossums.
    While other animals may carry the protozoa in their body, only opossums can transmit EPM. The feces of opossums contain sporocysts and that is how they transmit the disease. … It is this neurological damage that can cause the various symptoms of EPM. Horses with EPM cannot pass it onto other horses

    BTW Opossum and Possum differ.

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