Like many organizations, we’ve spent several years claiming that opossums eat a large number of ticks, and that they help to combat the spread of tickborne illness. We had fact-checked our information— we always do!— and claims about opossums as tick-eaters were supported by credible sources like the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and the National Wildlife Federation.
But environmental science and zoology are ever-evolving fields, and new research emerges constantly about the role that native animals do, and don’t, play in North America’s web of life. It’s turns out that the newest, best research disproves the claims we’ve been making about opossums’ role in reducing tick populations.
Scientists at Eureka College analyzed the stomach contents of 32 wild opossums and couldn’t find any ticks, tick larvae, or tick body parts. They also looked into the findings from 23 similar studies and found no evidence that opossums eat a significant number of ticks. So it turns out that this whole tick-eating thing was incorrect.
We admit that it’s tempting to keep repeating misinformation without correcting ourselves. After all, the belief that opossums eat tons of ticks has tremendously improved the way people perceive them, and has encouraged a lot of people to rethink their desire to harm them. But we believe that truth matters, and that we have a responsibility to correct ourselves after perpetuating misinformation.
While opossums don’t really eat a lot of ticks, they still matter, and they still deserve our love and respect. Opossums are miracles of the natural world, and have survived nearly unchanged since they shared the planet with dinosaurs. They consistently score high on intelligence tests despite having what appear to be very primitive brains. They are naturally resistant to rabies and most snake venoms. They help keep the world clean by eating large amounts of decaying animal matter and rotting fruit. While they may not be the tick-vacuums we thought they were, our world wouldn’t be the same without them.
Please continue to respect opossums for their role in the natural world, but accept our apologies for the role we played in the spread of incorrect information about their diets.