A Possum Does the Impossible
Wildlife Reflections from Whispering Pines
By Christine Hall
It was just another quiet, COVID-19 Quarantine day for our family. The kids were on their iPads. My husband and I were working remotely. The pets were wreaking havoc (2 cats, 2 dogs, 3 aquariums). Family life was fairly normal, when up sprang a notice on my phone – “Can anyone help us get a possum and her babies out of the hood of our car?” Life stopped for a moment.
“YES!” I scrambled to reply to the neighborhood Facebook post. “I’ll be right there!” I love animals. And especially ones in need. “Right there,” turned into a half hour, and by the time I arrived, the mama and her babies were gone. I was still eager to hear how the story had unfolded.
“Mater,” as she had been named, had made herself a fine nest out of pine straw and leaves in the hood of Mr. and Mrs. Lyons’ pick-up truck – atop a steep Whispering Pines residential driveway – smack
dab in front of the family’s garage. She had seemingly worked diligently at night a few yards away from the unsuspecting family’s kitchen. I imagined Mater sneaking into the kitchen for a snack. I was assured by the husband this did not happen.
Scurrying up the undercarriage of the truck, Mater had found safe reprieve to build her nest. It was there that she and her babies lived their own quarantined lives. For days, or weeks, they rode to and from Fort Bragg. To and from errands. To and from who knows where. And survived “to tell about it.”
It was a surprise pop of the hood by Mr. Lyons that uncovered their covert operation that day. The homeowners were shocked, but smart, and immediately reached out for help. Prompted by a neighbor’s referral to call North Carolina Wildlife Rehabilitators of Moore County, Margaret (Meg) Davis and Cristi Carras, of Pinehurst, were quick to the scene.
“Possums are common to this area and like to seek safe shelter near natural areas with fresh water and food sources, so it’s not unusual that a mother possum would seek shelter in a residential area,” says Davis, who serves as a licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator for our state. “Often folks may reach out to animal control or other resources who are either not equipped, or not legally allowed to assist in the matters. That’s where we come in.”
“Possums also frighten people,” says Davis. “A lot of our work is educating the public on safe dos and don’ts when interacting with wildlife.”
Here are some facts:
• When frightened, they may show their 50 teeth, hiss, or play dead, but typically will not try to bite.
• North America’s only marsupial, possums are immune to most snake venom and help keep the copperhead population down.
• Contrary to popular belief, they do NOT carry rabies.
• They will catch and eat ticks, roaches, rats, and mice. A single possum can eat an estimated 5,000 ticks in a season.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, possums act like “little vacuum cleaners” with ticks, helping to reduce the transmission of Lyme’s disease. Possums are extraordinarily good groomers, killing the
vast majority – more than 95% percent – of
the ticks that try to feed on them. “Basically, possums are walking around the forest floor, hoovering up ticks right and left, killing over 90% of these things, and so they are really protecting our health,” says Rick Ostfeld, Senior Scientist at Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.
Davis and Carras donate numerous hours rehabilitating and safely relocating small mammals, including possums, squirrels, and the Eastern cotton tail bunny. In January 2020, North Carolina passed a law enabling the rehabilitation of Rabies Vector Species. Bats, raccoons, foxes, skunks, and bobcats can now receive care from licensed professionals, including orphaned babies. “This is a big victory for rabies species rehabilitation.”
Licensed NC Wildlife Rehabbers hold an active license with at least three years of experience rehabilitating. To learn more, visit ncwildlife.org