Wildlife at Jones Park: You’ve Got a Friend in Me

By: Anni Ranck,
Outreach Coordinator

Opossums are arguably one of the most maligned and misunderstood creatures on our continent. They have a reputation of being dirty, diseased, ugly, mal-tempered, and unintelligent. However, the truth is the opossum is an ecological hero and one of our greatest allies in the fight against diseases.

• Known as a dead-end host, opossums cannot transmit rabies or distemper. Because of their cool body temperature, the rabies virus dies in their system.
• Their unique immunity to snake venom could one day be the key to life-saving treatments for human snakebite victims.
• Not only are they voracious predators of cockroaches, mice, and rats, studies have shown opossums consume 90 percent of Lyme Disease-causing ticks in our yards.
• Opossums are impeccably clean animals, grooming themselves incessantly. Healthy adult opossums rarely have fleas because they are so meticulously clean.
• They are extremely passive. An opossum will never chase a person or pets. If cornered, they may hiss and bare their teeth, but it is all an act. Statistically, they are far more likely to fall over and play dead when threatened—hence the phrase “playing possum.
• Opossums are intelligent animals. In fact, they have been shown to outperform mice, rabbits, cats, and dogs in memory studies and mazes. But, their poor eyesight and passive nature is a liability on busy streets and may explain why so many become roadkill.

By educating others, we prevent the perpetuation of opossum myths and misconceptions and find a wealth of value in these wild neighbors.