The Tick Eater

To some people, the warming of the season and growth of green vegetation means some sort of glorified, golden sun with trim lawns and swimming. I don’t know. I’m guessing. Well, when I lived in Colorado it was something like that, plus mosquitoes. Not in Arkansas. Here the onset of spring means a countdown to heat exhaustion inducing humid days and nibbling critters. Pick a nibbling critter, we have them. Mostly I think of 1) ticks, 2) fleas and 3) chiggers. If I didn’t have pets wandering in and out of the house then fleas wouldn’t be an issue. Maybe.

We have other critters. At night one or two regular raccoons come by the back door.  Later in the night if I’m still awake the neighborhood opossum visits. Frankly, they are all very handsome.

opossum

Photo courtesy of Cody Pope.

Yes, opossums are good-looking with their prehensile tails, “hands” and shrew-like, ghostly snoot. I like a critter with a cute snoot.

I could have waved my arms high in excitement when I read an older article reprinted at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies website (the original story was by Robert Miller at NewsTimes.com.) Turns out my sweet opossum friend—the one the writer insults its good looks—is instrumental in regulating the local tick population and lyme disease outbreaks.

facebook link

I saw this while exploring Facebook’s suggested pages and it immediately caught my interest.

Apparently the relic North American marsupial makes a better parent than most forest floor animals—the parents actually teach the kids how to groom properly. Something that those white footed mice desperately need to learn…that would probably be easier if they weren’t a part of the opossum diet themselves.

On the plus side, supporting a healthy ecosystem in your neighborhood supports the tick exterminators. An interesting article from Native Plant Wildlife Garden a few years ago (I know, I’m always behind the times) explains how a fragmented habitat and an abundance of acorns benefit the mice while a healthy forest benefits not just opossums but foxes and raptors, in other words white footed mouse predators. Ah, biodiversity!

tick grooming graph

This is rather disproportionate–opossums are THAT much better at controlling the tick population and Lyme (last collumn)? Can they manage the flea population, too? (Graph a screen shot from the Native Plant and Wildlife Garden article.)

I recently moved my wood pile to a new location, and there was an overabundance of acorn husks. Sure, I have three cats, but I suppose adding acorns to the fall burn pile might help the mouse and tick situation in the long run. I can’t expect that cats to do everything themselves.

Oh, and please don’t run your car over the opossums. I know they play dead when they shouldn’t. We all do stupid things, but not all of us are exemplary at our jobs and we should appreciate those who do.

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