Some look at the opossum and see a giant rat that steals cat food. Others think they are only a driving obstacle. For me, I’ve always had a soft spot for the bug-eyed marsupial.
Sure, their prehensile tail has a scaly snake-like quality. They dine on disgusting roadkill and their mouth is full of pointy teeth which they display in a loud, slobbering hiss. But, deep down, they’re pretty nice little guys.
They prefer the nightlife to avoid confrontations and would rather run than fight. If they’re cornered, they may try a threat, but are just as likely to roll over and play dead.
As for the theft of that cat’s meal, how would they know that you aren’t putting it on the porch just for them?
The opossum’s adaptable lifestyle includes a wide range of living areas and a diet of equal variety. These omnivores will eat carrion, insects, fish, reptiles, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
Most know that the Virginia opossum is the only baby-pouched marsupial found in North America and that they share nature’s garbage disposal job with vultures, and even the more esteemed bald eagle. But sometimes research uncovers a new look at a mammal whose ancestry dates back 65 million years.
Now we know that these stumbling furbearers are also a health benefit to both our pets and to us. Ecologists have learned that they’re a sort of magnet when it comes to ridding the world of black-legged ticks, which spread Lyme disease.
Studies have found that opossums groom themselves fastidiously, like cats. If they find a tick, they lick it off and crunch it down. The research team actually studied opossum poop to check out exactly how efficient this tick gulping really is.
Richard Ostfeld, of the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies, is a forest ecologist and an expert on the environmental elements of infectious diseases like Lyme disease.
Extrapolating from their findings, Ostfeld said, the team estimated that in one season, one opossum can kill about 5,000 ticks.
Likewise, Ostfeld said, opossums pick up lots of ticks. Some get their blood-sucking dinner from the possum but more than 90 percent of them ended up being a late-night snack.
So, the next time you’re admiring that majestic buck or regal eagle and the lowly opossum waddles by and gives you a drooling grin, remember that he’s doing his job.
Not all of us can be beautiful on the outside.
Along the Way:
This spring, approximately 25,000 randomly selected Ohio fishing license holders will receive an email invitation from Ohio State University requesting their participation in a survey on fishing-related topics.
The public and many state legislators routinely ask Division of Wildlife officials about how many anglers fish in Lake Erie. This survey is aimed at answering that question, as well as understanding how Ohio’s licensed anglers utilize other resources managed by the wildlife agency.
Anglers will be asked a series of questions about walleye, yellow perch or black bass fishing to help determine what characteristics of these fisheries determine successful fishing trips. The survey will help the division understand aquatic resource utilization patterns of Ohio’s anglers across the state.
Step Outside:
• Tomorrow: Trap shoot, 1 p.m., Mount Blanchard Gun Club, 21655 Delaware Township 186.
• May 7-8: Free fishing days. Ohio’s free fishing days are open to all residents and extend to all public waters, including Lake Erie and the Ohio River. All regulations and limits apply and can be reviewed at www.wildohio.gov.
• May 14: Youth Day, 9 a.m., Mount Blanchard Gun Club. Kids 17 and under are invited to a day of learning about safely handling and shooting rifles, shotguns and archery. Food and door prizes are provided. Contact: Bob Yoder, 419-273-5057.
• May 14-15: The Ohio Ornithological Society guided birding tours for novices and new birders at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area near Oak Harbor. The walks will be held 8:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on May 14; and 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. on May 15. Limited to 15 per slot. To sign up, email marshmadness@ohiobirds.org. Include name, phone number, date and time slot.
• May 15: Women’s Gun Awareness Program, 1 p.m., Mount Blanchard Gun Club. Open to women 18 and older. Firearm safety, handgun, rifle and shotgun use will be covered. For details: Bob Drake, 409-306-7528, or Bob Yoder, 419-273-5057.
Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard, OH 45867-0413 or via email at jimsfieldnotes@aol.com.

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