The Buzz

Things we love: Those precious possums

(Photo via Shutterstock)

About this series: While many people love nature, different people love different aspects of it. One may have a soft spot for flowers, while another gravitates toward a particular animal. And yet for others, it's all about the scenery. "Things We Love" explores those jaw-dropping parts of nature that one person finds particularly special. In this edition, Katie McCollum, digital and print marketing specialist, tells us why she loves opossums.

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and in my book, opossums are beautiful creatures that are just misunderstood. Some people think of them as being ugly, unintelligent or a nuisance, but that is just not the case. Sure, at first glance they look like giant rats, but if you get a closer look, you can see they have adorable round ears, sweet little eyes and (when they are not hissing) a lovable face. And don't get me started on baby opossums. They are probably the cutest thing I've ever seen, especially when they hitch a ride on their mother's backs. 

Beyond their good looks, though, opossums are one of my favorite animals because they have so many unique characteristics. For one, rabies is very rare in opossums because their body temperature is lower than other warm-blooded animals. This lower body temperature makes it difficult for the virus to survive in their body. So when they hiss, show their teeth or drool, it is most likely not a sign of rabies. Instead, it is part of their defense mechanism to keep predators away. 

Another fun fact: Opossums are immune to snake venom. They have a molecule — called a peptide — in their blood that neutralizes snake venom. And what's cool about this peptide is that scientists are hoping to use it as an anti-venom for humans in the future.

Opossums also have incredible memories. They have a remarkable ability to find food and remember where it is, according to Mother Nature Network. In fact, when they were tested on their ability to remember where food is, they scored better than rabbits, cats and dogs.  

They are not gross pests either. Opossums groom themselves constantly to stay clean and parasite-free. They are meek creatures that will not attack you or your pets. They want to avoid confrontation as much as possible. So if you have one living in your neighborhood, it’s no cause for alarm. They are beneficial to have around because they eat garden pests like slugs, snails and cockroaches. Also, if you think an opossum is getting into your garbage, think again. They are most likely just cleaning up the mess another critter — like a raccoon — has left on the ground. 

So what is their best attribute? In my opinion, it’s their ability to feast on a lot of ticks. They eat ticks by the thousands, and any animal that can help get rid of those nasty blood-sucking parasites is a treasured friend of mine.

I love opossums for all the amazing things they can do, and I urge people to try to look at them in another light. They deserve our respect, not a bad rap.

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