Written by Kim Sharkey
Meet Luna the Houston Zoo’s resident Virginia opossum. Although she is beautiful, she is so much more than just a pretty face. Luna does not look like your typical opossum because of her striking white coat, which is known as leucism. This is a condition in which there is a partial loss of pigmentation. Her unique coloration meant that she would not have a high survival rate in the wild, which is one of the reasons that she now lives at the Houston Zoo.
Luna is now in the Children’s Zoo where she is an ambassador animal and representative for her species in the wild. She routinely goes out with staff for keeper chats and conservation education programs where she helps educate guests about opossum’s importance in the environment.
Opossums are often seen as a nuisance and not desired in backyards and gardens, however they are very critical in the controlling of pests that can contribute to disease transmission to humans. While you sleep, these nocturnal creatures are busy eradicating pests such as rodents, insects and even feasting on carrion. Ticks that carry Lyme disease can pose a huge threat to humans and our pets but opossums do a great job in controlling them, eating up to 5,000 ticks every season.
Opossums have a partial immunity to snake venom and can consume most local venomous snakes including cottonmouths and rattlesnakes. The only snake they are not immune to is the coral snake. Researchers are currently looking to find the key to their natural anti-venom capabilities.
One last benefit to the opossum’s omnivorous diet is they consume a lot of fruit and plant matter. Preferring to eat the flesh of the fruit and spitting out the seeds and rinds means they are also great seed dispersers. So while they are cleaning up the forest floor they are also helping to replant it. Opossums play an important role in our environment along with many of the other animals at the Houston Zoo. Next time you visit the Children’s Zoo you might just be able to see one of these amazing animals and learn more about their role in nature.