Lehigh Valley

Possums help deal with ticks

Possums help deal with ticks

You may not have appreciated the cool and soggy spring weather, but ticks dig it.

Pennsylvania's tick population has increased more than 25 percent over the past several years.

At South Mountain, a hot spot for ticks, Muhlenberg College biology students are seeking out the season's number 1 enemy, the highly infectious deer tick.

"There is a 1 in 5 chance this is carrying the bacteria that causes Lyme disease," said Marten Edwards, professor of biology.

Edwards said the cool and wet spring provided the perfect breeding ground for the parasite, who love to hide in leaf litter.

"No doubt spreading into parts of the state that were rare and now very common. A growing problem and one that is here to stay," Edwards said.

The best defense against ticks might be playing possum.

"One of these guys can eat up to 5,000 ticks a year," said Kathy Uhler of the Pocono Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center.

Uhler said for the first time, people have been requesting rehabilitated possums for their property. There's now a waiting list for these magic marsupials.

"They perform a really good ecosystem roll and don't really cause any problems for people," she said.

Uhler said about an acre of land without cats and a lot of car traffic will do. You don't have to feed or interact with them. Possums know what to do, Uhler explained.

"They're fastidious, they groom themselves. They can nibble off about 96 percent of the ticks on them. The immune system of a possum kills the bacteria that causes Lyme disease," Edwards added.

Edwards and his crew will continue to track ticks. The Wildlife Center, which takes in 2,500 injured animals per year, will show off its tick terminator at an open house this weekend.

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