A month ago my husband and I drove 1,500 miles with our two dogs and two cats from California to Texas. We are ecstatic for our new life out here, although it brings a lot of change to our life.
I am no longer having to commute over 3.5 hours to work every week, which is a major blessing. However, I am no longer raising any wildlife. And boy do I miss it! But I am not giving it up for good. I have such a huge passion for it, there is no way that I could ever fully give that up.
The purpose of this website has always been to help educate those looking for answers to wildlife care and what they can do to help with those that rehabilitate. Although I am no longer raising and caring for any critters, the purpose of this website still remains. Every day at work I am teaching the people that I work with about the wonders of opossums and why they are so much greater than people give them credit for.
I am hoping to broaden the topics of wildlife on this site as well. See keep an eye out!
Today's blog post will focus on how great opossums are at ridding the world of ticks and therefore tick-borne diseases! Below you'll find a couple articles and studies from across the Internet.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection primarily transmitted by Ixodes ticks, also known as deer ticks, and on the West Coast, black-legged ticks. These tiny arachnids are typically found in wooded and grassy areas. Although people may think of Lyme as an East Coast disease, it is found throughout the United States, as well as in more than sixty other countries.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 300,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme disease in the US every year. That’s 1.5 times the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer, and six times the number of people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS each year in the US. However, because diagnosing Lyme can be difficult, many people who actually have Lyme may be misdiagnosed with other conditions. Many experts believe the true number of cases is much higher.
Lyme disease affects people of all ages. The CDC notes that it is most common in children, older adults, and others such as firefighters and park rangers who spend time in outdoor activities and have higher exposure to ticks.
What Is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is caused by a spirochete—a corkscrew-shaped bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. Lyme is called “The Great Imitator,” because its symptoms mimic many other diseases. It can affect any organ of the body, including the brain and nervous system, muscles and joints, and the heart.
Patients with Lyme disease are frequently misdiagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and various psychiatric illnesses, including depression. Misdiagnosis with these other diseases may delay the correct diagnosis and treatment as the underlying infection progresses unchecked.
How Do People Get Lyme Disease?
Most people get Lyme from the bite of the nymphal, or immature, form of the tick. Nymphs are about the size of a poppy seed. Because they are so tiny and their bite is painless, many people do not even realize they have been bitten.
Once a tick has attached, if undisturbed it may feed for several days. The longer it stays attached, the more likely it will transmit the Lyme and other pathogens into your bloodstream.
If pregnant women are infected, they sometimes pass Lyme disease to their unborn children and, while not common, stillbirth has occurred. Some doctors believe other types of human-to-human transmission are possible but little is known for certain.
Where Is Lyme Disease Found?
Lyme disease has been found on every continent except Antarctica. It is found all across the United States, with a particularly high incidence in the East, Midwest, and West Coast. Rates have increased significantly over time. Some of this increase may be because of disease spread, but it is also likely that it reflects growing public awareness of the disease.
Not all ticks are infected. Within endemic areas, there is considerable variation in tick infection rates depending on the type of habitat, presence of wildlife and other factors. Tick infection rates can vary from 0% to more than 70% in the same area. This uncertainty about how many ticks are infected makes it hard to predict the risk of Lyme disease in a given region.
In the South, a Lyme-like disease called STARI (Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness) transmitted by the Lone Star tick has been described. Scientists are still debating about what organism(s) in the Lone Star tick may cause the disease as well as the treatment of patients with a rash in the South. However, Lyme disease has been reported in certain areas of the South and Southeast and patients with STARI may be quite ill. Because of this, patients in the South with a rash should be treated.
The risk of getting Lyme disease is often reflected in risk maps. Some maps show the number of human cases of Lyme disease reported for surveillance. These maps may not accurately reflect risk because only 10% of reportable Lyme cases are currently captured by CDC surveillance. Other risk maps show the number of infected ticks that researchers have collected in a certain area. These maps are often not accurate because many states and counties have done little or no testing of ticks in the area. The best maps of risk may be canine maps. This is because dogs are routinely screened for Lyme disease through a nationwide program as well as the close association of dogs with humans.
Continue reading here >
Opossums - killers of ticks
At night, when you catch sight of an opossum in your car headlights, you are allowed to think, "That is one ugly little animal."
But what opossums lack in looks, they make up in originality.
They're America's only babies-in-the pouch marsupial.
They're a southern species -- proper name Virginia opossum -- that's adapted to New England winters.
They're one of the oldest species of mammal around, having waddled past dinosaurs.
They eat grubs and insects and even mice, working over the environment like little vacuum cleaners.
"They really eat whatever they find," said Laura Simon, wildlife ecologist with the U.S. Humane Society.
And they're an animal whose first line of defense includes drooling and a wicked hissing snarl -- a bluff -- followed by fainting dead away and "playing possum."
"They are just interesting critters," said Mark Clavette, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
And now ecologists have learned something else about opossums. They're a sort of magnet when it comes to riding the world of black-legged ticks, which spread Lyme disease.
"Don't hit opossums if they've playing dead in the road," said Richard Ostfeld, of the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y.
Ostfeld is forest ecologist and an expert on the environmental elements of infectious diseases like Lyme disease.
Several years ago, scientists decided to learn about the part different mammals play in the spread of the ticks and the disease.
They tested six species -- white-footed mice, chipmunks, squirrels, opossums and veerys and catbirds -- by capturing and caging them, and then exposing each test subject to 100 ticks.
What they found, is that of the six, the opossums were remarkably good at getting rid of the ticks -- much more so that any of the others.
"I had no suspicion they'd be such efficient tick-killing animals," Ostfeld said.
Indeed, among other opossum traits, there is this: They groom themselves fastidiously, like cats. If they find a tick, they lick it off and swallow it. (The research team on the project went through droppings to find this out. All praise to those who study possum poop.)
Extrapolating from their findings, Ostfeld said, the team estimated that in one season, an opossum can kill about 5,000 ticks.
What ecologists are learning is how complex the interaction of ticks and mammals can be.
For example, foxes probably serve as a host for ticks seeking a blood meal. But foxes are great at killing white-footed mice -- the species in the environment credited with being the chief reservoir of the Lyme bacteria.
Likewise, Ostfeld said, opossums, waddling around at night, pick up lots of ticks. Some ticks end up getting their blood meal from the possum. But more than 90 percent of them ended up being groomed away and swallowed.
"They're net destroyers of ticks," Ostfeld said.
For Simon, of the U.S. Humane Society, the Cary Institute research is a welcome justification to just leave opossums be.
"People are so hard on them," she said.
That's in part because people think oppossums might be rabid when they drool and hiss and carry on when threatened. In fact, opossums are resistant to rabies.
Meanwhile, they are not particularly pretty. People who "ooh" and "aah" over fawns and bluebirds may not extend the same love to pokey animals with triangular heads, white faces and naked tails.
"I tell people 'We can't all be beautiful,' " Simon said.
Original article >
Opossums: Where Lyme disease goes to die
They come out at night.
They have scary teeth.
They have a weird name with an extra vowel most people don't pronounce.
And they are where Lyme disease goes to die.
Say hello to the opossum, the American marsupial with a pointy nose and prehensile tail that dines on ticks like a vacuum dines on dust. (Most people drop the first vowel when speaking of 'possums, but possums actually belong to a different species native to Australia.)
With the weather warming — and recent news of trails coming to Dover, Highland and New Paltz whetting the wanderlust — folks are fixing to plant their feet in something other than a snow bank.
And that means being aware of the threat of Lyme disease.
The tiny adolescent ticks that carry Lyme disease bacteria are most active during the late spring months, typically May and even as early as April during warmer years.
But whereas these ticks can be found in large numbers on mice, shrews and chipmunks, they are eaten in large numbers by opossum.
Opossum are among the most voracious consumers of ticks, according to research conducted by the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.
Research led by scientists based at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook placed different species into cages, covered them with ticks and waited for the biting arachnids to jump off.
The scientists then counted how many survived.
Opossums can eat or remove as much as 96 percent of the ticks that land on them.
Research also suggests the immune system of opossums is fairly effective at fighting off the disease.
So even the ticks that do survive a visit to an opossum are less likely to acquire the disease.
Cary scientists are continuing to examine the correlation between the frequency of different types of mammals, and the infection rates of ticks found in the same area.
The initial thought? Where foxes thrive, Lyme doesn't.
That's because foxes are good hunters of the small mammals that serve as the most effective reservoirs of the Lyme pathogen.
I'm told the data are still being analyzed and that findings may be presented later this year.
The ongoing research is also looking at the role opossums play.
All of this points to why Lyme is a particularly inscrutable disease.
There are so many complex interactions that govern its prevalence — from human land-use development, to shifting climate patterns, to the abundance (or lack) of certain mammals.
And that doesn't even address how the disease behaves once it is in the body. (The Lyme bacterium is apparently one of the only things on earth that doesn't need iron to survive.)
One thing is certain, however.
Opossums are your friend and mine in the fight against Lyme.
Original article >
I can't believe that it's been three years since I've posted a blog update! Many opossums and other little babies have been cared for, raised and released in that time. My life has changed quite a bit in that time as well! All great things. I've changed careers, although I will always continue to care for wildlife and work with animals, I can guarantee that! My new career opens up so many more opportunities to help the wildlife I love though.
Currently, I am unable to take care of the very small pinkies like I used to, cause I'm not home as often, but hear this. I'm a flight attendant now! This new career will allow me to travel to all sorts of different places to help wildlife and other organizations all throughout the world. I am super excited for that opportunity.
I miss having all of the little baby opossums like I used to, but once I get everything settled I should be able to continue their care. The days I am flying I can transfer the babies to someone I've trained to tube feed, which in turn is better for the opossums because more trained hands means more babies saved!
Right now I have two adults in my care and two little babies. One of the adults is a hit by car male, but he is doing great and showing zero signs of internal damage. The other adult is a female I raised from a baby, she's blind in one eye but her release looks promising and should be soon. The babies are just barely getting fluffy and now eating solid foods!
I have such a huge passion for these marsupials. Although I'm unable to post on here often, come back when you can to make sure you don't miss anything.
Yesterday I received a call that animal control had picked up a hit-by-car female opossum. She was in critical condition and was needing to be humanely euthanized. Before doing so though, the animal control officer realized that she had babies in her pouch. So I met up with him to remove the babies from her pouch. By the time I got there he had already sedated her to make her relax, she was in immense pain but could not be euthanized before the babies were removed. I pulled seven little ones from her in total, each averaging at about only 5 grams! These are officially the smallest babies that I have ever received. I double checked her pouch, making sure I didn't miss any, and gave him the okay. There was no possible way that any veterinarian could save her so having her humanely euthanized was the kindest thing to do for her. Rest in peace sweet soul, your babies are safe now.
After getting home they were all placed in a moist and warm incubator as I got some formula ready for them. Because they are so small, they do not receive too much liquid each feeding, but do need to be fed often. At current weight they get 0.25cc of formula every 2 hours. That includes throughout the night. I got them fed but their best chance of survival would be to go with a surrogate mother. Unfortunately, it is not as easy as just putting them in her pouch and letting them be. Luckily, I have a mother in my care. I brought her inside and had her relax on her back in my lap so that I could get the babies in to her pouch. I kept her inside a carrier in the house with lots of comfortable bedding so she could relax. Every few hours I would check on her and every few hours one or two of the babies were outside of her pouch and on the blankets. When a mother opossum sleeps, her pouch relaxes. Babies can easily fall out if they are not attached to the nipple so this is what was happening.
By this morning, three were now outside of her pouch. I took them and placed the three back in the incubator and then checked on the mother. Lo-and-behold, two babies had attached themselves to a teat! I was so happy. I removed the other babies, knowing that if they hadn't attached to a teat by now there was not a very high chance that they would. When opossums are born they crawl inside their mother's pouch and search for a teat. Once they find one they swallow it and do not detach for two months. So when a baby is removed from a teat, it is difficult for them to reattach, although not impossible. The two that were able to reattach though are now in the perfect environment to live and grow as they should. The rest will continue to be tube fed. Babies this size have a small chance of survival outside of their mother's pouch, but it is possible. I will be doing all that I can in hopes that they little ones will make it.
On the 13th a little male came in to my care, he was caught by a cat. He suffered two puncture wounds to right side, one behind neck, other under his right elbow. I immediately put him on antibiotics and then began to clean up his injuries. Since he was severely infested with fleas I gave him a bath and then set up his warm bed so he could get some rest. After being tubed some rehydration fluids, I laid him down in his bed and he immediately went to sleep.
On the 15th an adult female, caught in trap, came in. She had swelling and bleeding to inside of her mouth and single broken toe nail on front left foot from trying to get out of trap. I don't know if you could tell in the middle picture, but she is very slim. She also has a bit of hair loss to top of head from old injury. And guess what else? Pinkies in pouch! She will be staying with me a while to heal up and gain some weight before being released.
On the 17th I got another adult female, caught in trap. She was brought in to animal control the day prior and we did not know about her until the next morning. So she sat in a carrier all night and morning in her own waste and no bedding. She has small abrasions to inside of mouth from trap, no other aparent injury but severely infested with fleas. After cleaning her up a bit and getting rid of her fleas she got to go outside in one of the prerelease cages. Since she has no major injury she will be released after getting some nice meals for a few nights.
Later that day I also got in a little baby boy that was found by a dog. Luckily the dog did not cause any injury, but the little guy was covered in dried mud because the dog dropped him in to a puddle. In this picture, to the left, he just got done having a bath.
On the 20th I got a group of seven babies; four males, three females. All look healthy and have no injury. They will be raised until they are large enough for release.
Today one of the animal control officers brought me this adult female pictured on the right. She was found in someone's fruit tree and the man who found her knocked her off in to the green waste trash and call animal control to come get her. Luckily she suffered no injuries, but the man who found her was telling the animal control officer why he didn't want her in his yard and many of the reasons were misconceptions about opossums. He believed that they have rabies, cause destruction, would attack his dogs, and so on. The animal control officer informed him that the opossum would do none of that and was there because of all of the rotten fruit on the ground. He informed him that they are a great neighborhood clean up crew and was just picking up the rotten fruit for him. The man who found her did say he did not want to hurt her, just did not want her at his house. She is now outside in a prerelease enclosure resting up from her traumatic adventure this morning.
On the 3rd I got a young male juvenile in. Remember Gus from March 25th and Frank from the 28th? Well, this is Ralph, found from the same address. Quite possibly a sibling. He was also found during the day and was severely infested with fleas. Slightly anemic like his brothers, he got all his fleas removed immediately before getting some rehydration fluids and being laid down in a warm, soft bed.
On the 5th, while watering her flower bed, the little boy pictured in the middle came running out on to the grass of a lady's yard. She felt horrible for getting him wet, but wasn't sure how to handle him. she was able to get him in to a bucket and called animal control who then directed her to me. I told her to get it some towels or something so it could burrow in it before I got there. Once getting him I found him to be dehydrated, weak, and rather thin. He definitely had fallen off of his mother before knowing how to find his own food. He slept in my shirt, staying warm, on the drive home before I was able to care for him at home.
On the 6th a friend of mine called saying she checked a hit-by-car opossum on the way to work and found the little baby, pictured to the right, in the pouch. She she found her she was ice cold and my friend thought she may have been too late. But the baby just barely moved her leg so my friend snatched her up to get her warm. Once at work she got the baby on the heating pad and that's when she called me. The baby has a few bruises and is weak, so I am hoping she will pull through.
On the 8th a lady called me about a baby cottontail that he cat brought to the house. Once she brought it to me, honestly, I was surprised it was still alive. It's left ear was partially torn off, had multiple puncture wounds throughout body and it had a puncture wound near tear duct of left eye. With no open wounds to mend, I did all that I could by just setting it up in a comfortable bed and getting some antibiotics in it. Unfortunately, it did not make it through the night. While getting up in the middle of the night to feed the pinky opossum that was brought to me on the 6th, I found the cottontail deceased in its bed. I am happy to say it had a warm and safe place to pass though, instead of being further injured and dying outside with the cat.
On the 10th I got a group of seven babies. Three boys and four boys in total. They're all looking healthy and will be raised until old enough for release.
Today on the 12th an elder adult female that was caught in a trap was brought to me. Luckily she did not suffer any injuries from being trapped, but with the hair missing from different areas of her body it was easy to tell that she is over two years old, possibly nearing three years old, which is lucky for an opossum in the wild. She immediately went for the food I put out for her once she was placed in one of the prerelease enclosures.
Lots of babies this past week! March 30th this group of nine babies came in, no injuries and looking healthy. Five boys, four girls. They will be staying with me to get bigger before release. March 31st the baby pictured in the middle was brought in, just found on the ground. No injuries, but a little cold. Then on April 1st her brother came in! Since he wasn't found until the next morning, he was rather cold but looked great otherwise.
Later on the 1st I also got in another group of nine babies! Also five boys and three girls. They eagerly lapped up formula from a dish after being warmed up on a heating pad and each receiving some rehydration formula for a while. Then today two more babies! Both boys and both very cold and severely infested with fleas, they were found on the ground together without their mother. First matter of business was getting rid of those nasty fleas, after I did so they got to cuddle up in some warm bedding and take a rest. Then to take a break from babies, I got another caught in trap adult in. This one a young adult female with three week old pinkies in her pouch. No injuries luckily and she will be released in a few days after getting some filling meals for both her and her babies.
Many more opossums added to the list of this year's intake log! First up there is Gus, found on the 25th. One of my friend's children found him and they promptly gave him a name. He was found in the middle of the day severely infested with fleas and anemic so I am very glad that she called me.
On the 27th a young adult female was brought to me because she was caught in a trap. Luckily she sustained no injury and was able to be released after getting some good meals which not only fed her, but also her three week old pinkies that I saw in her pouch.
On the 28th Gus' brother, Frank, was found outside in the middle of the day. He was also anemic and severely infested with fleas. After riding him of all of those parasites he was placed with Gus to keep each other company.
I also got in a mother opossum the evening of the 28th. She was caught in a trap and sustained some small abrasions to the inside of her mouth from it. As you can see in the picture she has a group of seven week old babies in her pouch, seven of them to be exact. She will be staying with me in a safe environment to raise her babies until they are weaned.
On the 29th I got in this no so happy adult male that was caught in a trap, pictured in the middle. He has a swollen muzzle, abrasions on top part of his muzzle, the lower right side of jaw is exposed, both bottom canines broken, and his upper right canine broken. He was put on antibiotics immediately and his wounds were cleaned. He will be staying with me for quite a while until his injuries heal.
Today a young adult female came in with a very odd issue. She was caught in a trap and luckily sustained no injury from it. What is different about her is that her back left leg is atrophied and has nerve damage to it. It is possible that she broke it a while back and it just never healed properly. She is not thin though, so she has been able to forage for food with no problem. One of the amazing things about opossums is that they can sustained so much and still persevere. They truly are incredible creatures.
On the 18th I got an adult male who was caught in a trap. His upper right canine is broken off and he has abrasions to sides of mouth and top of muzzle from trying to escape trap. He is missing fur around both shoulders which looks to be from old age. He looks to be two and a half, if not almost three years old.
On the 19th I got both a baby gopher and two baby cottontails, unfortunately one of the cottontails was dead on arrival. All were found on the ground, no apparent injury, but the gopher and surviving cottontail were quite thin, dehydrated, and cold. After setting up their own beds they each got placed on a heating pad and soon the baby gopher was eating on it's own.
One the 21st I got another cottontail, this one older and with its eyes open. He was found by a dog and was covered in dried up slobber by the time I got him. He was placed with the other cottontail I got and was started on antibiotics. I also got a young adult female opossum. She was caught in a trap and had small abrasions to the inside of her mouth but luckily no other injuries.
Then today I found a baby mouse in my garage. He was very cold and lethargic so I brought him inside and put him in a warm and comfortable bed. He has already warmed up and I have been able to get some fluids in to him. Only time will tell how he does.
It's been a very busy baby season already, and thus a busy wildlife rehab season! Between this passion, my job, and planning my wedding (Yay, I can't wait!) I have been a super busy woman. So unfortunately I have not had the time necessary to update my blog as often as I used to be able to. So from now on my posts will be more combined. For every six intake logs I will be sure to make a new blog post about those animals that came in. So be looking out for new updates soon! With this many animals already coming in, I know it's going to be a busy year!