Wildlife Wednesdays: Opossums and Lyme Disease | weatherology°
By: Meteorologist Megan Mulford
Updated: Oct 29th 2019

Wildlife Wednesdays: Opossums and Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected, blacklegged ticks. Each year, about 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to the CDC. Symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a skin rash known as erythema migrans. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics. If left untreated, or a more severe case, the infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. Steps to prevent Lyme disease include using safe insect repellent and removing ticks immediately upon spotting them on skin. One of the best allies out there in stopping the spread of Lyme disease is opossums. 

Most people think opossums are just "ugly rodents" that occasionally can be found in garages, attics, and running across the road. You will want to think twice before calling an exterminator to remove them from your home or hitting them on the road. A study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences compared squirrels, mice, and opossums with their consumption of ticks. The study concluded that opossums were the most effective exterminator. Also, ticks favored opossums twice as much as the other rodents, and opossums killed or ate almost every tick that crawled on them during the study.

One opossum can kill over 5,500 ticks per week! Rick Ostfeld, a disease ecologist, says "Opossums are extraordinarily good groomers and kill more than 95% of the ticks that try to feed on them." He further mentions that "these opossums are walking around the forest floor, hoovering up ticks right and left, killing over 90% of these things, so they are really protecting our health."

Worldwide, more than 1.3 million people die each year of infectious diseases transmitted by ticks, mosquitoes, and sand flies, according to the World Health Organization. The study author mentioned that vector-borne diseases take a toll on crops, livestock, and wildlife. 

Opossums
Opossums are one of the best allies in preventing the spread of Lyme Disease.
Blacklegged Ticks
Infected bites from blacklegged ticks spread Lyme disease to humans and animals.
Opossum
One opossum can kill over 5,500 ticks per week!