Opossums are plentiful in the South. While many view them as a nuisance or even dangerous like raccoons, the truth is they are helpful creatures and good to have around. Opossums are the only marsupial in the U.S., this means they are more closely related to koala bears and kangaroos than they are to rodents. They carry their young in a pouch until they reach a certain size and then the mama opossum carries her babies on her back. While they might look like part of the rodent family, they aren’t related at all.

Opossums are most active at night so you’re more likely to see them when it’s dark out. They are shy creatures who “play dead” when they feel threatened. Their body literally shuts down when they’re frightened. Even better, opossums help control the tick population. A single opossum can eat as many as 5,000 ticks in one season and they don’t contract or carry Lyme disease or other tick-borne illnesses. They are also immune to rabies and most snake venom. Their voracious appetite for ticks helps control the tick population and combat Lyme and tick-borne illnesses that harm humans. If you have an opossum hanging around your yard, congratulations! Instead of shooing it away, support the great work it’s doing to eliminate ticks in your yard. Here’s how you can support opossums and combat ticks.

1. Keep dogs and cats indoors at night. Pets can attack opossums causing serious injury.

2. Drive slower at night to help avoid hitting opossums crossing the road.

3. Do not use poisons outdoors for nuisance animals. If you have a nuisance animal or just don’t want the opossum around, call a wildlife relocation service like Pee Dee Wildlife Control to catch and relocate the animal.

4. Clean up chemical spills right away, such as anti-freeze. Anti-freeze poisons opossums and can also poison your household pets.

5. Keep your pool covered at night. It’s also helpful to leave a bowl of water out nearby so opossums will drink from the bowl instead of trying to drink from your pool.

6. Don’t litter. Litter harms all wildlife, including opossums. Pick up any litter you find.

7. If you find an orphaned or injured opossum, contact the Opossum Society of the United States for help finding a local rehabber or call your local wildlife relocation service for help.

8. If you want to leave food out for your opossum friend, they enjoy fruits, grains, nuts, grubs, worms and you can even buy opossum kibble at some pet food and farm supply stores. Just be sure to leave food far enough from your house to avoid attracting rodents, insects and other pests.

Simply supporting and protecting the lives of local opossums helps combat ticks. Opossums eat 90% of the ticks they encounter and are helpful animals to have around. This list included a few ways you can support your local opossum population and combat ticks and tick-borne illnesses. If you find an opossum in distress, call Pee Dee Wildlife for help. To learn more about these amazing animals, check out the Opossum Society’s website at http://opossumsocietyus.org.