'Destroyers of ticks': How opossums help fight ticks and Lyme Disease

DEDHAM, Mass. — Opossums are nocturnal critters that may repel and disgust many, but they could be a important factor in keeping ticks and Lyme Disease at bay.

On the heels of a mild winter in 2017-2018, one expert predicted a tick explosion this summer and that has parents concerned about the spread of Lyme Disease.

While some recommend spraying for ticks in your yard, opossums could the natural key to warding off ticks.

MORE: Expert warns of 'tick explosion' this summer

According to a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, opossums kill around 90 percent of the ticks that attempt to attach and feed on them.

The study notes opossums are particularly good at grooming themselves, which leads them to swallow most of the ticks that attach themselves.

Based on a study conducted by the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, researchers estimated opossums can kill about 5,000 ticks in one season.

"They're net destroyers of ticks," Cary Institute researcher Richard Ostfeld told

Opossums are known for their ‘play dead’ tactic and that’s why some researchers urge people to avoid hitting opossums apparently lying dead in the road way.

MORE: Ticks now spreading to urban areas, expert warns

Avoiding killing opossums could be a simple way of helping attack the tick population in your area.

"Let's embrace opossums and be thankful for the work they do in taking out ticks," Krystina Snyder wrote in a letter to the Concord Monitor in May.

According to the Dallas-Fort Worth Wildlife Coalition, "Opossums eat fruits, snakes (opossums are immune to all types of snake venom, except that of the coral snake), insects, snails, slugs, eggs, mice, rats, fish, frogs, crayfish, and carrion. If for no other reason than pest control, opossums are great to have around!"

Opossums are the only marsupial native to North America and the most common is the Virginia Opossum, which adapted to survive harsh New England winters.

New Hampshire and Massachusetts both allow opossum trapping during raccoon and opossum season.

"People will hunt just about anything," Dave Wattles, a black bear and furbearer biologist with Mass. Fish and Wildlife said.

Wattles says opossums are technically a furbearer species, so they could be used for pelts. However, he said opossum hunting isn't believed to be very common.

You can read more about opossums and find tips for residents who live near them here.

Mass. Hunting Dates and Hours
Oct. 1 – Jan. 31 and Oct. 1 - Jan. 31, 2019
All dates are inclusive. Hunting is prohibited on Sundays.
Raccoon and opossum may be hunted 24 hours per day. Except on WMAs stocked with pheasant or quail during the pheasant or quail season, the hunting hours for raccoon and opossum are from 9:00 P.M. to 3:00 A.M.

MORE: Spraying your backyard may be your best chance at warding off ticks