Possums are your best defense against Lyme disease

Lyme disease, which used to be a rare occurrence in the Catskill Mountains, is unfortunately becoming more common. As owners of cats and dogs will confirm, there has been a substantial increase in ticks over the last few summers... and ticks transmit Lyme. The consequences of misdiagnosed or untreated Lyme disease are so scary that a simple hike merits long sleeves, long pants and tube socks to cover bare skin, as well as a post-hike search for the tiny black specks that can ruin your life. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if ticks had a natural foe that would keep their numbers in check? Enter the opossum: the scruffy creature with the sweet face, sharp teeth and unappealing tail. Although possums have a reputation as filthy critters, they in fact are compulsive groomers—who just happen to have a taste for garbage, carrion… and ticks. In a study published in the Royal Society’s journal Proceedings B, opossums were found to be veritable tick magnets that devour over 96% of the blood-hungry parasites. The study’s team of researchers, which included biologists, ecologists and foresters, were able to determine that the average possum is infested by as many as 5500 larval ticks each week. About 5300 ticks become snacks, while only 200 successfully feed and drop to the forest floor. That makes the opossum a very effective ecological trap for the removal of ticks. Other species that have a positive effect on tick removal are squirrels (over 80% of ticks eaten), and chipmunks and birds (over 70% consumed). Mice only ingest about half the larval ticks they harbor, which allows the other 50% to feed and go forth to make mischief. When preferred species aren’t available, ticks simply hitch a ride on whoever walks by. The research study claims that a forest's loss of [...]