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