I have been writing articles about critters and pests for a long time and since both categories seem to expand all the time, I though I should find out what the difference is between the two.

According to the dictionary a critter is a creature, but only in some regions. A pest is a thing that causes trouble especially an insect or small animal that destroys things. I consider a critter larger than an insect and does damage and the category has expanded to include wild turkeys, coyotes and now opossums.

Native Americans call them possums which means white animal with the spelling opossum first recorded in 1613 and has been used ever since. Although our area has dealt with them for the past 40 years, fossils indicate that opossums have remained unchanged for seventy million years. Although they don’t hibernate and are generally nocturnal, in cold and snowy weather they may hole up for days in an unoccupied doghouse, your haymow, other out buildings, etc. More than once, while feeding our outside cats, opossums have been sharing the feeding dish side by side with them.

They present the least health risk of any wild animal. Rabies and other viral diseases are rare to them due to their low body temperature. Like all warm-blooded animals, they can host fleas and ticks, and hay or grain that has been tainted with their feces has been linked to Equine Protozoal, a health risk to horses.

Karen Kirsch wrote an article in the 2013 Farmer’s Almanac, writing that it’s much better to have opossums around than many other wild animals. They won’t dig up your garden or lawns and they won’t chew wood or wires. They catch and eat mice and rats and devour insects, especially cockroaches, snails, slugs and snakes. Although we may need not to worry about our area, opossums have a natural resistance to some poisonous snake venom. Their menu also includes grasses, overripe fruit and berries, bird eggs (which some of you may not like), human garbage and pet foods. Their favorite diet is road kill which helps keep the environment clean. Ironically, when the opossum is eating road kill, it often becomes a meal for some other critter.

To keep an area “possum free,” the first thing is to clean up whatever is attracting them. If you have pets outdoors, feed then during the day and remove their food when they have finished eating. Keep doors and windows closed when possible and keep all garbage away from them because that’s their favorite meal. If they get into a building turn on the lights and turn on a radio or other noise to help hasten their departure.

They are not aggressive and they don’t attack humans and other animals, but with their razor-sharp teeth they will bite if cornered. To protect themselves they may give off a smell from the anal glands that smells like a rotten carcass. They can also faint dead-away thus earning the saying “playing possum.”

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