Dept. of Bad PR

How Can Anyone Hate a Possum? Here’s Why You Shouldn’t

Defending the good name of Houston’s most misunderstood marsupial

By Katharine Shilcutt June 20, 2016 Published in the July 2016 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Hang in there, little guy!

Image: Shutterstock

Someone we thought we knew recently told us they hated possums. Hate? Hate is such a strong word; how can anyone hate a possum? “They’re ugly,” our former friend said. “And they have those creepy rat tails.” While the aesthetic merits of the Didelphis virginiana are, okay, fine, up for debate, what’s not is this: Our backyard-and-bayou dwellers deserve your respect. Here’s why:

Do you hate mosquitoes? So do possums, who devour them with glee. But that’s not all these critters consume: The omnivorous marsupials eat insects, rodents, snakes, even pesky garden slugs and snails. And thanks to possums' unusually high need for calcium, they also polish off whole skeletons, leaving your yard carrion-free.

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Possums are naturally immune to rabies, meaning they can gobble up rabid pests without passing along the disease, yet another reason not to fear the gentle creatures known for “playing possum”—pretending they’re dead rather than face a fight.

Ever-benevolent, mama possums carefully tend to their babies for between two and four months—an incredibly long time, considering the possum’s average lifespan of two to four years—tenderly teaching them to climb trees and forage for food.

So look beyond the beady eyes next time you have a run-in with Houston’s humble helper. Better yet, leave a little fruit out to create your very own backyard possum patrol. Even if you don’t, they’ll still be around, eating mosquitoes and saving your skin, no matter what you think of their creepy little rat tails.

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