When Claude Thériault took out the recycling a person day in March, he was stunned to come across an sudden visitor hanging out on his doorstep.
“When I opened the door, the opossum was correct there on the deck,” said Thériault, who life in a suburban space of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.
“I practically stepped on him!”
Didelphis virginiana, the marsupial frequently known as the North American or Virginia opossum — or simply, a possum — lives generally in the United States, Mexico and Central The united states. Its northernmost habitat stretches into Quebec’s Eastern Townships, southern Ontario and the Fraser Valley in British Columbia.
But in latest many years, opossums have usually been noticed in the Montérégie location, on the South Shore of Montreal.
Anecdotally, citizens of municipalities these types of as Otterburn Park, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Varennes and the Saint-Hubert sector of Longueuil, as very well as in the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) neighborhood of Kahnawake have all claimed seeing them.
When the 1st opossum sightings in Quebec date back again to 1976, the population has been growing due to the fact 2000, according to the province’s Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks.
The animal is regarded “perfectly-founded” in the Montérégie, albeit in “minimal density,” and they’ve even been noticed close to Mont-Saint-Hilaire, according to the ministry.
“Persons are normally a bit scared when they see them for the 1st time mainly because they’re amusing-seeking,” stated Carole Lacasse, director of client companies at Proanima, an animal shelter with contracts with quite a few South Shore municipalities.
She said the shelter normally receives phone calls about wild animals in people’s yards, including opossums.
“They glance like a huge rat. But they are totally diverse than the rat as an animal,” she stated. “And they have moustaches … they’re basically unsightly and adorable at the identical time.”
Lacasse states opossums aren’t typically found near the shores of the St. Lawrence River. “But as you go south, we commence to see them,” she stated.
Habitat array expanding
Some opossums have even been seen north of the St. Lawrence river, as significantly as Trois-Rivières in 2017, Boisbriand in 2020 and in Barkmere, in the Laurentians previous year.
The ministry retains track of stories of useless or injured animals but states, due to the fact it truly is not necessary for citizens to report dwell opossum sightings, the government has only a partial portrait of the evolution of the population.
Thériault mentioned it really is only in the past pair of decades that he has begun noticing the animals in his neighbourhood — from time to time, unfortunately, as highway eliminate.
The opossum on his porch experienced what appeared to be scars from frostbite on its ears and tail.
“The two ears had been rather dark and the exact same matter at the close of his tail and one of the ears has a small bit of blood,” he mentioned.
The injuries from the cold are possibly not stunning, as opossums do not hibernate, explained Jean-Philippe Lessard, affiliate professor in the section of biology at Concordia University.
Warmer temperatures, city development entice opossums north
Although Lessard’s investigate just isn’t specifically relevant to opossums, his lab studies how biodiversity and species distribution are influenced by human things to do.
“Southern Quebec was probably also cold or the winters had been most likely way too extended for issues like possums, wild turkeys and turkey vultures right until a short while ago,” he claimed.
The opossum is just the newest in a prolonged line of species whose habitats are shifting toward the poles, as temperatures climb, according to Colin Garroway, associate professor in biological sciences at the University of Manitoba.
“Southern species are moving north into northern species’ ranges. That’s messing with the biology in all kinds of attention-grabbing means,” he said.
For case in point, Garroway and his colleagues have researched the incursions of killer whales farther into Arctic waters and the interbreeding of the moment distinctive northern and southern species of flying squirrels.
He details out that other species that we might think of as indigenous to Quebec, these as white-tailed deer and coyotes, also moved northward in the early 1900s and 1940s respectively.
Those species, like opossums, are motivated by urbanization, as they look to human-created foods sources, like garbage, or in the scenario of deer, new buds that grow following tree chopping.
Both of those Garroway and Lessard say it can be not obvious how the opossum may possibly have an effect on Quebec’s ecosystems.
“They’re odd, appropriate? They occur from a absolutely distinctive evolutionary department than our mammals listed here simply because they are marsupials,” Lessard stated.
“There could possibly be things about their biology that would make them distinctive more than enough from our indigenous species of mammals that they might not have a quite negative impact.”
Continue to, opossums are still a further signal of the results of immediate local climate warming and urbanization, Garroway reported.
“I believe [opossums] are just one particular additional indicator that we’re modifying points in sizeable techniques,” he reported.
A yard fixture, but not a tick fixer
Whilst opossums are a rather new arrival to Quebec backyards, Lacasse claimed the advice for dealing with them is frequently the same as for other wild animals — go away them on your own and don’t feed them.
“If you are leaving food items for a cat or something, you should not leave it at night time. Clear away all the food items,” she claimed.
Opossums are likely to request shelter below a porch, but normally do not destroy home or act aggressively with humans, even heading so considerably as to enjoy dead — or possum — to stay away from an assault.
But, like any wild animal, it could chunk if it feels threatened and cannot escape, Lacasse claimed.
“If ever we run into just one and they are scared … just let them be and go away,” she mentioned.
Even though preferred understanding indicates that opossums are a weapon towards Lyme sickness because of to a voracious appetite for ticks, this is not the situation, according to a publication from Quebec’s Wildlife Ministry.
Opossums do “meticulously groom their fur” and consume the ticks they uncover, the ministry states.
But the notion that they enable decrease tick populations is an “incorrect interpretation” of a 2009 review of opossums in captivity that was not replicated in the wild.
The ministry adds that “safeguarding an opossum and retaining it in close proximity to the residence in the hopes that it will secure you from Lyme condition is not only inefficient but also harmful to the animal.”