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Opossums: The Misunderstood Marsupial

by Dennis Matherly on 01/06/18

Opossums Florence SCA critter that is very common in our area is the opossum (often also called possum, without the "o"). The opossum is the only marsupial in North America. Marsupials carry their babies (joeys) in a pouch after birth while they develop. Some familiar marsupial cousins would be the kangaroo and the koala bear in Australia. Unfortunately, opossums have gotten a bit of a bad reputation and are often referred to as "trash cats" and other derogatory terms. They actually play an important role in our ecosystem. Let's dispel the myths about this misunderstood marsupial. 

Myth: Opossums spread disease. 
Fact: Opossums rarely carry or spread disease. In fact, opossums are largely immune to rabies and diseases common to other wild animals. 

Myth: Opossums are dirty. 
Fact: Opossums are very clean animals. They spend as much time grooming themselves as domestic house cats. 

Myth: Opossums are pests that damage structures, like your home or shed, to nest in. 
Fact: Opossums are nomadic, so they don't infest or nest. They typically move locations every few days and will take advantage of any safe dry shelter they happen upon, including hollow logs, empty outdoor fireplaces, under a deck or spots created and left behind by other animals like raccoons. 

Myth: Opossums only eat trash. 
Fact: Well, if you leave your trash outside and accessible, any animal will get into it. Same thing goes for pet food left outside. Any wild animal will be interested in an easy meal. However, opossums typically eat fruit, insects, snails, slugs, rats, mice, frogs, fish and snakes - venomous ones too. Opossums are immune to nearly all snake venom with the exception of the coral snake. They eat copperheads, rattlesnakes and cottonmouths, to name a few. 

More Opossum Facts
Here are a few more interesting facts that just might change your mind about the opossum: 

  • Opossums eat TICKS, and lots of them. An average adult opossum can eat between 2,000 to 4,000 ticks in a single week. And they don't contract or carry Lyme disease - they're immune to it. 

  • Opossums have opposable thumbs. In fact, only primates (including humans) and marsupials have opposable thumbs. 

  • Opossums have been around since the time of the dinosaurs. 

  • Opossums have prehensile tails and can carry bundles of grass or twigs using their tails. Their tails also help them with balance. 

  • When opossum joeys grow too large to fit comfortably in the mother's pouch, they relocate and ride along on mom's back until they are old enough to survive on their own. 

  • The name opossum comes from the Algonquin Native American word "apasam", which means "white face". 

  • Opossums are very good climbers and often will climb trees or fences to avoid predators or find a place to sleep. 
Most of the time, opossums are more afraid of you than you are of them. They will hiss if they feel threatened or "play dead" which is actually a type of seizure. Remember, never handle wild animals - injured or otherwise. If you have an opossum causing a problem, please call Pee Dee Wildlife. Also, opossums that have been hit by cars may have joeys in their pouch, so if you see this unfortunate scenario happen, please let us know so a wildlife professional can check. 

Opossums serve a very important role in our area, controlling both tick and venomous snake populations. We hope you've gained a new appreciation for North America's only marsupial and will share about this interesting critter with your friends and neighbors. 

Bats in the Attic? Why it's a Serious Problem

by Dennis Matherly on 11/15/17

Bats have an interesting reputation. On one hand, they are helpful creatures who eat pesky dusk and nighttime insects. On the other hand, if they decide to move into your home, they can be a serious problem. Bats rarely bite or attack humans unless they are sick or threatened. The incidence of rabies in bats is also incredibly low. If you are a fan of online animal videos, some are even pretty cute. Note: Never handle bats yourself! Always call a professional because bats that have lost fear of humans are more likely to be sick - it's not worth the risk! Aside from that, you may be wondering what could be so bad about bats in the attic, then? 

Property Damage
Even a small colony of bats in your attic produce enough urine and feces (guano) to cause serious property damage. Guano soaks into drywall and sheet rock, and accumulates in insulation. The built-up guano eventually degrades these surfaces enough to drip through ceilings and even cause portions of a structure to collapse. Not to mention the guano soaking into the materials within walls isn't exactly a pleasantly scented situation to deal with. 

Bat Mites
Bats carry a very specific type of mite. Bat mites are often mistaken for bed bugs, and to the untrained eye (and even quite a few trained ones) are often nearly indistinguishable. It's not uncommon for exterminators to treat a home or building for bed bugs and believe the issue is resolved, only to be called out again for reinfestation. As bat mites reproduce and offspring migrate away from the animal looking for more hosts, it can appear that the property is experiencing multiple reinfestations of bed bugs when really, the source of the infestation is an undiscovered bat issue. 

Human Health Hazard
As we mentioned, rabies in bats is very rare, though it does occasionally happen. However, the bigger threat to human health posed by bats is actually guano. Bat guano often contains spores that cause a very dangerous lung infection in humans called Histoplasmosis. While any human can breathe in these harmful spores and become ill, Histoplasmosis can be potentially fatal for very young children, the elderly and immunocompromised individuals, such as cancer patients. 

Bats are a vital part of the eco-system. They play a natural role in curbing populations of insects active at dusk and at night. Some species are even pretty darn cute. However, a bat infestation in your attic is a serious problem. If you suspect you may have a bat - or a few - who have moved in with you, call in the wildlife experts to check it out. 

Animals Seeking Shelter in Your Home in the Fall and Winter

by Dennis Matherly on 10/24/17

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Fall and winter in the Carolina's can get chilly for people and local wildlife, including squirrels, bats, raccoons and opossums. During the colder months, animals are just like people and prefer to stay warm and cozy. It's important to take some precautions during the fall and winter to avoid winding up with a wild and unexpected roommate. 

Damage Caused by Wildlife Intruders
Wild animals can do a lot of damage to your home. They chew on wood and sheet rock that causes structural damage. They may gnaw open storage boxes and plastic containers, damaging the contents inside. The entry they create into your home can be an invitation for bugs to take up residence also. Those entryways can also allow water to seep into parts of the home and cause mold growth. Wild animals may also chew on electrical wiring, which can cause a dangerous electrical fire. 

Who is Sneaking In?
In our area, the most common wildlife intruders are squirrels, bats, raccoons and every once in a while an opossum. They generally take up residence in parts of the home you don't use frequently, such as attics, basements, crawlspaces or even inside walls. Unless you hear scurrying sounds or happen to go into one of those spaces, you may not even know you have a new wild roommate (or a few). 

Intrusion Prevention
The best way to avoid wildlife intruders is to use measures to prevent them from gaining access to your home in the first place. Here are a few tips to protect your home from intrusion: 

  • Trim tree limbs that could provide an access route to your home, particularly up near the attic and roof. This is a common way squirrels break into attics.
  • Don't leave pet food outside. This entices wildlife into your yard looking for a quick meal.
  • Properly address any cracked or broken windows in any part of the home but be sure to inspect those in the attic and basement.
  • Ensure safety screens covering attic fans and chimneys are properly secured and don't have any holes or damage.
  • Seal any cracks you find (or have a profession out for repair) to prevent animals accessing your home through a crack in siding or foundation.
  • Take trash out promptly and make sure your trash container lid snaps shut securely to avoid attracting wildlife. Also, if you compost, be sure to use an animal-proof composting unit.
No one likes to be cold, especially local wildlife. If they can find a way into your home, they may decide to move in for the chilly season. There are measures you take to prevent squirrels, bats, raccoons and the random opossum from making themselves at home in your house. If you suspect you may have a new wildlife roommate, call Pee Dee Wildlife Control to investigate and safely remove any intruding critters.