A recycled post from the National Wildlife Federation recently reignited a debate in our house concerning the humble opossum. Possums give Judy the creeps, but I think that people generally, and gardeners in particular, should roll out the welcome mat to North America’s only marsupial.
The irony is that when it comes to our gardens, it’s the supposedly cute animals that inflict devastation. I’m thinking of rabbits especially, not to mention raccoons. Anybody who has ever encountered a cornered raccoon in their garage knows that the masked critters can be about as cute as Al Capone.
By contrast, possums do nothing destructive. The only reason why people find them creepy is how they look. Admittedly they have the appearance of large, disheveled rats, and the naked tails are not exactly endearing. I’ll also concede that their bared teeth can be a bit alarming.
Despite the teeth, possums practice non-violent resistance where people are concerned (unlike the warlike raccoons, who are entirely disinterested in the philosophy of Gandhi). When threatened, possums often pretend to be dead (play possum), much like a state legislator I knew who avoided meetings by pretending to be asleep in his office.
When possums are aggressive it is entirely to humanity’s benefit. They like to eat rats, mice, slugs, snakes (including poisonous ones!), and snails. Perhaps more important, they are voracious killers of the ticks that spread lyme disease. According to one estimate, a single possum kills about 5,000 ticks annually.
As if suffering from low self-esteem due to their appearance, possums come out only at night. Judy points out that she sometimes sees them in the early morning, though, but should we really grudge this helpful animal a bit of morning light? I think not.
In fact, I would say that it is time to appreciate the possum – before it is too late. Otherwise we will continue to see possums driven by despair to committing more and more anti-social acts, like the possum who broke into a Florida liquor store and got drunk.
So hug a possum today! Well, maybe just offer a friendly wave – from a reasonable distance.