More and more possums stick their noses in Monteregie

The opossum, a marsupial with a pointed snout, long scaly tail and black, gray and white fur, is increasingly found on the South Bank, especially in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Longueuil.

Its presence raises curiosity as climate change shifts its habitat northward.

Claude Thériault, a resident of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, said he saw a possum on his doorstep last March. I almost stepped on himHe says.

didelphis virginiana, called the North American or Virginian opossum, lives mainly in the United States, Mexico and Central America. Its northernmost habitat extends to Estry, Quebec, southern Ontario, and the Fraser Valley, British Columbia.

However, a few individuals have been recorded in the Monteregie region in recent years.

If the first reports in Quebec date back to 1976, then according to the Quebec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, the population has been increasing since 2000.

Claude Theriault took this photo of a possum on his porch in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu on March 13th. Photo: Claude Theriault

funny looking

People often get a little scared when they see them for the first time because they look funny.says Carol Lacasse, director of customer service for Proanima, an animal shelter that works with many South Shore municipalities.

Her shelter often receives calls to report the presence of wild animals in residents’ yards, including opossums.

They look like big rats, but they are completely different, explains Karol Lakasse, and they have whiskers… They are actually ugly and cute at the same time.

You don’t often see them along the banks of the St. Lawrence River, she adds. but the farther south, the more you begin to see.

Some opossums have been seen north of the Saint Lawrence River in Trois Rivières in 2017, Boisbriand in 2020 and Barkmere in the Laurentian Mountains last year.

The Wildlife Department monitors reports of dead or injured animals, but because citizens are not required to report live opossums, the government has only a partial picture of how this is happening.

Claude Theriault says that it was only in the last two years that he started noticing these animals in his area. Sometimes they become victims of vehicles on the road.

Mr Theriault says the opossum he saw on his porch had frostbite scars on his ears and tail.

“Cold wounds shouldn’t come as a surprise because opossums don’t hibernate,” says Jean-Philippe Lessard, assistant professor of biology at Concordia University.

A female opossum.

A female opossum suffering from frostbite takes shelter in a box. Photo: Associated Press

Pulling north

Although Jean-Philippe Lessard’s research is not directly related to opossums, his lab studies the impact of human activities on biodiversity and species distribution.

Until recently, he said, southern Quebec was probably too cold or had winters too long for species like opossums, wild turkeys and red vultures.

Colin Garroway, associate professor of biological sciences at the University of Manitoba, agrees. He believes the opossum is just the latest in a long line of species whose habitat is shifting poleward as temperatures rise.

Garroway and his colleagues studied the invasion of killer whales into Arctic waters, as well as the interbreeding of once different species of flying squirrels in the north and south.

He points out that other species that could be considered native to Quebec, such as white-tailed deer and coyotes, also migrated north in the early 1900s and 1940s.

These species suffer from urbanization as they turn to man-made food sources such as waste or, in the case of deer, new buds that grow when trees are cut down.

Colin Garroway and Jean-Philippe Lessard do not comment on how the opossum could affect Quebec’s ecosystems.

They come from a completely different evolutionary line than our mammals because they are marsupials.says Mr. Lessar.

They may have biological traits that distinguish them from our native mammal species in such a way that they do not cause harmful effects. [sur les écosystèmes]he adds.

There is no doubt in Mr. Garroway’s eyes: possums are another indicator that we are making a significant difference.

A weapon against Lyme disease?

: laissez-les tranquilles et ne les nourrissez pas”,”text”:”Il n’en est rien : laissez-les tranquilles et ne les nourrissez pas”}}”>It’s not like that: leave them alone and don’t feed themCarole Lacasse advises.

Opossums are mistakenly considered a weapon against Lyme disease due to their insatiable appetite for ticks, but according to the Quebec Wildlife Ministry, this is not the case.

It’s true that possums take good care of their fur and eat the ticks they find, the ministry said. However, the idea that they help reduce tick populations is misguided. misinterpretation from a 2009 study of captive opossums that has not been replicated in the wild.

Protecting the opossum and keeping it around the house in the hope that it will protect you from Lyme disease is not only ineffective, but also harmful to the animal.the Quebec Ministry of Wildlife insists.

Based on a report by Ainsley MacLellan of CBC News.

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