They’re Heroes of the Animal World
By Jackie Flynn Mogensen, Mother Jones, July 26, 2019
In the marsupial family, the opossum really got the short end of the stick: While their Australian cousins, including kangaroos, koalas, and wombats, are adored by the masses, opossums are outcasts. They’re the United States’ only native marsupial, but they’re virtually nobody’s favorite animal. They aren’t the star exhibit at any zoo. You almost certainly won’t see them on the cover of any wildlife magazine. No one has ever squealed, “Trash panda!,” after spotting one digging through a garbage bin, as so many people (somehow) lovingly do with raccoons.
Sure, they’re ugly. They’ve got beady eyes, a hairless tail, and dozens of pointed teeth. When Captain John Smith came to America in the 17th century, he wrote that opossums have a head “like a Swine,” a tail “like a Rat,” and are about the size of a cat, which I must admit, is pretty spot-on. But opossums do more for us than we recognize. “Just because they’re ugly doesn’t mean that they’re not important and worthy of protecting,” David Mizejewski, a naturalist at the National Wildlife Federation and author of the book Attracting Birds, Butterflies, and Other Backyard Wildlife, tells Mother Jones. “If you just open your mind a little bit, you can see them as beautiful creatures.”
In fact, opossums protect humans by eating ticks, dead animals, and venomous snakes. As nature’s trash collectors, they play a vital role in the ecosystem, all while protecting humans from disease. A 2009 study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences found that opossums are exquisitely good at removing ticks, which can carry Lyme disease, from their bodies and gobble up an estimated 5,000 ticks per season that may otherwise latch onto humans.
Read the rest of this article in Mother Jones.