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Opossums Overrun Brooklyn, Fail To Eliminate Rats 343

Posted by samzenpus
from the urban-opossum-blight dept.
__roo writes "In a bizarre case of life imitates the Simpsons, New York City officials introduced a population of opossums into Brooklyn parks and under the boardwalk at Coney Island, apparently convinced that the opossums would eat all of the rats in the borough and then conveniently die of starvation. Several years later, the opossums have not only failed to eliminate the rat epidemic from New York City, but they have thrived, turning into a sharp-toothed, foul-odored epidemic of their own."
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Opossums Overrun Brooklyn, Fail To Eliminate Rats

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  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday September 20, 2010 @02:23PM (#33639388)
    Based on my experience, automobiles seem to work wonders on these things. Clearly, we just need to bring in more automobiles to New York.
  • Hipsters (Score:5, Funny)

    by Sonny Yatsen (603655) * on Monday September 20, 2010 @02:24PM (#33639396) Journal

    Just tell the hipsters in Brooklyn that it's totally ironic to wear live Opossums on their heads. Kill two birds with one stone.

  • by Drakkenmensch (1255800) on Monday September 20, 2010 @02:26PM (#33639418)
    Just bring in a colony of ferocious lions to eat the possums. When the lions become a problem, bring in gorillas to fight the lions. Then in winter the cold will kill the gorillas. Problem solved!
    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      "Just bring in a colony of ferocious lions to eat the possums"

      Not lions; lion shit. Get bags and drag them around to convince the possums that there is something big and very bad living there.

      Herd them into a PETA headquarters. Leave a note that they seem to be some kind of kittens.

      Tell the cops that they get 3/5 of a point for each one killed and buy a pair of firing range earmuffs.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Nadaka (224565)

        The New Orleans Police Department sniper team get real life target practice by trolling the streets at night and shooting nutria rats with a .22 rifle.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by jpiratefish (1690054)
      Actually, Australian "Powerful Owls" eat 200-350 possums each per year - bring them in, or better, maybe Spotted Owls... Note: Change thread to "Life imitates Futurama"
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You'd think that none of the officials had ever been exposed to old folk songs... ...She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
      I don't know why she swallowed the fly.
      Perhaps she'll die.

  • by egandalf (1051424) on Monday September 20, 2010 @02:26PM (#33639426)
    Did they learn nothing from the story of the old lady who swallowed a fly?

    Poor thing. I hear she died.
  • by Bing Tsher E (943915) on Monday September 20, 2010 @02:27PM (#33639450) Journal

    We had to deal with a bold, insane, possibly rabid raccoon on the front porch last week. Believe me, it's scary when the wild animals decide they're not afraid of you at all.

    • by Jaysyn (203771)

      LOL, not when you own a firearm!

      • by vux984 (928602) on Monday September 20, 2010 @02:47PM (#33639800)

        Yep, because discharging a firearm at night in an urban setting to kill rodents and small mamalls is an intelligent thing to do.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Shakrai (717556) *

          That's what air rifles are for.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Jaysyn (203771)

          An air gun would be fine for that. Urban settings have animal control, good luck getting them to show up at midnight though.

          I have alligators living on the farthest reaches of my property. I have seen both panther (may have been a large wild cat) & bear tracks within a half-mile of my home. If you live where I do & don't own at least one varmint gun, you're a grade A moron.

          • by StikyPad (445176) on Monday September 20, 2010 @04:05PM (#33641010) Homepage

            I found a possum in my trashcan many years ago. Feeling brave and heroic (aka scared and freaked out), I loaded up my air rifle with a .177 pointed pellet, gave it a full 10 pumps, and shot the possum basically point blank in the upper body. It was difficult to tell where it hit exactly due to all the fur and thrashing, but suffice to say that it did not die -- much to our mutual chagrin. Neither did it perish after the increasingly distressing 5 attempts at a coup de grace using BBs from the reservoir. I ended up having to retrieve and load another pellet and shoot it in the head to finally put it out of its misery.

            After it was dead, I went to get a shovel only to came back and discover that it was not actually dead, as it had tipped over the trashcan and escaped. Turns out "playing possum" is a real thing after all.

            Personally, I would not recommend air rifles for shooting possums, or any other "varmints" for that matter. Even if you're a good shot, even if you *can't miss*, there's a significant chance that you will not kill it, and having a wounded animal running is not a good thing. For starters, there's the natural displeasure of having inflicted needless suffering (which may sound "unmanly," or inconsequential until you've actually experienced it), but also there's the practical reality that you've just created an increased risk to pets, children, etc., (which also feels pretty shitty).

            That said, I don't have a problem with people killing animals, be it for pest elimination or for sport, but inexperienced would-be shooters should be fully aware that shooting something doesn't necessarily equate to killing it, especially with an underpowered gun. If you're in an area where it's illegal to discharge a firearm (which is the case for the vast majority of residential areas), you should probably just stick to traps.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by networkBoy (774728)

              I saw someone mention clubbing an animal...
              I doubt they've tried it. I clubbed a rabbit (was sick, not getting better) and it moved right as I was fully committed to the swing.
              Effin hell I felt bad for the thing. What should have been a clean strike to the back of the skull turned into a painful head-blow.

              Now when I have to dispatch an animal I use a 33 gallon drum and compressed N2.
              Painless for the animal and no boom that would upset the newer neighbors (right on the boundary of greenbelt/open land and

            • by Tuidjy (321055) on Monday September 20, 2010 @06:22PM (#33642578)

              One night I got a call from my wife - she met some beasty on the path from the complex's gate to the apartment's front door, and the stupid thing stood its ground, got on its two hind legs, and started waving its paws and hissing at her. Something had been clawing our cat, so I was feeling pretty murderous - I took my recurve, and two arrows and went to see what was what.

              It was a oversized raccoon, and it was really standing its ground - it could have ran in the bushes or through the pool's fence, but did not, even though we were on both sides of it. I was afraid I would miss it (I had never shot my bow at anything but targets) so I made my wife go back to the car, i.e. out of the line of fire. I'm glad I did, because the arrow went clean through the raccoon, bounced off the concrete path, and took out a finger worth of wood from a wall. I realize now it was a damn stupid thing to do, as I had really underestimated what my bow could do.

              Shooting a gun in the same situation seem even more irresponsible - the bullet may just go through the critter, and end up into one of your neighbors.

              In any case, we called animal control, and I got a sermon from the Sheriff deputy about firing the bow inside the apartment complex. She said that she could have brought me in front of a judge for it, but she let it slide.

              Two days later, the animal control people wanted to check both me and my wife for scratches - the raccoon turned out to have been rabid... I guess we were both very lucky that night, despite doing so many things wrong - she stood nearby when she should have gone back to the car, I came up on the raccoon and could have scared it into attacking her, and then I shot a 65 pound bow in the middle of a bunch of dry wall buildings.

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          Air rifles, bow and arrow or even .22 shorts should be fine.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by oodaloop (1229816)
      Boy, we've come a long way from our humble beginnings on the savanna when one raccoon is scary. Maybe you could try using a human femur as a club, or even a boomstick.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dgatwood (11270)

      I've never heard of a raccoon that was afraid of people, or at least not recently. That sort of behavior seems to be the norm for them.

    • by CAIMLAS (41445)

      Stay in the "wild"?

      What the fuck is "the wild"? Manhattan and most every other place in the world where people inhabit was a glade, thicket, or other similar animal-inhabited "wild" before we came.

      Just like the Philistines, why would the animals decide "hey, we'll find somewhere else to go" when another species decides they want to live there instead?

    • by tverbeek (457094)

      How about the humans stay out of the wild where the animals already live?*

      Sure, coons and possums are nuisances, but imagine how they feel about the humans who've moved into their neighborhood!

      *Not referring to Brooklyn, obviously, but front porches in general.

  • We have these in Chicago; one died in my back yard. They're just like rats, but bigger. I can't believe anyone thought this was a good idea.

    • I live in the South. We have them littering the side of our roads and sometimes in our ovens or stewpots. Around here, other than getting in folks' garbage, they really are not a problem.
      • by Kazymyr (190114)

        ...sometimes in our ovens or stewpot

        On purpose or not?

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Nadaka (224565)

          Are you asking the possum? or the person cooking it?

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by stonewallred (1465497)
          Had it a couple of times, stewed and roasted. Not very good and gamy. I prefer squirrel or rabbit. But down here in NC and where a lot of my kin live in KY, you ate what was available. Least we aint like the koreans and such who eat dogs, or chinese, who eat anything that fails to get away.
      • by blair1q (305137)

        That's because the South also has things that eat them and keep their population relatively in check.

        I'm not sure that Brooklyn wants to bring in snakes, raptors, and gators to deal with the problem they already have.

        • I am pretty sure that Brooklyn already encourage raptors to deal with pigeons (most large cities do). Sometime in the 80s, someone did a study and found that not only do raptors (in particular peregrine falcons) significantly diminish the pigeon population but there crap is less corrosive, so it reduces the impact of bird crap on structures such as bridges.
    • by blair1q (305137)

      You're talking about politicians in Brooklyn making decisions about ecological balance. I can't think of a less ecologically balanced place.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tverbeek (457094)

      I am a bit puzzled why someone assumed that opossums in an urban environment, surrounded by garbage (which tends to just sit there), would instead take the trouble to hunt rats (which generally do not).

    • No kidding (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sean.peters (568334) on Monday September 20, 2010 @04:39PM (#33641470) Homepage

      The whole idea is almost mind-bogglingly dumb. Where did they get the idea that possums would eat rats? They mostly eat carrion and bugs.

      Maybe for their next trick they can introduce a herd of cows... you know, to eat the possums.

  • Life always find its way...
  • by alta (1263) on Monday September 20, 2010 @02:35PM (#33639560) Homepage Journal

    Seriously though, no one in their right mind down here would try to destroy a rat problem with a possum problem. Matter of fact, anyone that doesn't call them 'possum' doesn't really have any experience with the nasty things. The 'opossum' is about one of the nastiest animals I have ever had the displeasure of looking at. We get them in the garbage can every now and then... They get stuck and can't get out if there's not enough in the can for them to climb out. I usually just leave them there and let the trash man take care of them. I've poked at them a little bit and they just show their teeth and hiss. I've never seen them play dead. They're about the #2 roadkill item around here, after armadillo...

    So New York, I hear that badgers eat possum... interested?

    • by dkleinsc (563838) on Monday September 20, 2010 @02:38PM (#33639620) Homepage

      Badgers? Badgers? We don't need no stinkin' badgers!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Shakrai (717556) *

      I've poked at them a little bit and they just show their teeth and hiss.

      Invest in a decent air rifle and hone your marksmanship skills. That's what I do with the damn things. Was more fun living out in the country and shooting them with real firearms but the air rifle is almost as satisfying.

    • by RobertB-DC (622190) * on Monday September 20, 2010 @02:46PM (#33639764) Homepage Journal

      Seriously though, no one in their right mind down here would try to destroy a rat problem with a possum problem. Matter of fact, anyone that doesn't call them 'possum' doesn't really have any experience with the nasty things

      I'm with you -- what the hell were they thinking? Anyone from south of the Mason Dixon line would know damned well that turning possums loose on NYC would lead to complete chaos. The possum's preferred meal is Your Garbage, and a NYC alleyway is a possum's smorgasbord.

      But I do have an alternate theory. Someone from the Big City came down South and said something stupid about the size of our "rats". Someone from the Little Southern Town said, "We call 'em 'possums', and they'd eat your so-called Noo Yawk rats for breakfast". The city slicker promptly requested a truckload be delivered, and my cousin Bubba gladly obliged... knowing exactly what lay in store for Mr. Smarty-Pants from the city.

      Or it could have been an evil plot to wreak toothy, naked-tailed revenge for the wrongs inflicted upon the South during the Civil War... oh, sorry, I mean "War of Northern Aggression". YMMV.

    • by lexidation (1825996) on Monday September 20, 2010 @02:54PM (#33639904)
      They just show their teeth and hiss? What the fuck would you do if someone trapped you in a garbage can and started poking sticks at you? You expect the little fucker to greet you?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      I've never seen them play dead.

      I have, but only in response to my dog, not to me.

  • This story is giving me back a google text ad for "Alabama Pest Control" Yes, it got the location right.

  • Common sense... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MikeRT (947531) on Monday September 20, 2010 @02:39PM (#33639634) Homepage

    Maybe I have the benefit of experience, having lived in the south and all, but WHO WOULD BE SO F#$%ING STUPID AS TO USE POSSUMS FOR PEST CONTROL?

    The damn things are like the mammalian answer to cockroaches. If they didn't have typical mammalian susceptibility to radiation, odds on them among southerners would be 10:1, their favor against roaches to survive a nuclear holocaust by eating the remaining roaches and being the last species standing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nomadic (141991)
      They're less likely to spread diseases to humans than rats, they're less likely to have rabies, and they are easier to catch and kill than rats.
    • Re:Common sense... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <SatanicpuppyNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday September 20, 2010 @03:12PM (#33640174) Journal

      They're not as bad as rats, but it blows my mind to think that someone somewhere thought of the possum as a predator. They will hunt, but only if there is no ready supply of garbage. New York is their promised land.

      They'd have been better off importing bobcats. Though, of course, importing predators into New York to kill their pests is doomed: the pests are so commonly poisoned, that they're very likely to kill anything that eats them. That's a common problem with the falcons who feed on pigeons.

    • by Albertosaurus (696135) on Monday September 20, 2010 @03:26PM (#33640414)

      Maybe I have the benefit of experience, having lived in the south and all, but WHO WOULD BE SO F#$%ING STUPID AS TO USE POSSUMS FOR PEST CONTROL?

      New Yorkers, apparently.

  • I'm curious if anyone knows of any success stories of using this strategy with large animals.

    It definitely seems to work on smaller scales, like buying praying mantis eggs to control garden pests. But I'm not sure I've ever heard of a success involving anything much bigger than that.

    • by jbeaupre (752124)
      Introducing humans sure did take care of that pesky dodo problem. And NZ moas, and a good chunk of Australia and N+S America's megafauna. We're close to winning the fight against rhinos and snow leopards.
    • by vlm (69642)

      I'm curious if anyone knows of any success stories of using this strategy with large animals.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Matthew_Island [wikipedia.org]

      Summary: Lots of voles, introduce reindeer, population explosion of reindeer, crash, everythings dead.

      This is probably the source of the whole meme.

  • by shadowrat (1069614) on Monday September 20, 2010 @02:42PM (#33639700)
    HA HA!
  • by Spectre (1685) on Monday September 20, 2010 @02:48PM (#33639810)

    I know this is Idle, but still.

    Newspapers: New York Times, Washington Post.

    Tabloids: New York Post, Washington Times.

    If this is a real story, is there a real paper carrying it somewhere?

    Sort of, here's a United Press International feed: http://www.upi.com/Odd_News/2010/09/19/Immigrant-opossums-adapt-to-Brooklyn/UPI-90141284911712/ [upi.com]

  • Anything can be solved with a BFG.
  • WIKIPEDIA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by immakiku (777365) on Monday September 20, 2010 @02:48PM (#33639820)

    Their unspecialized biology, flexible diet and reproductive strategy make them successful colonizers and survivors in diverse locations and conditions.

    If they had just read the first two paragraphs in wikipedia, they'd know possums don't just "die off" after there's no more rats.

  • Should be one of that kind that could be natural enemy of rats or oppossums. And that way we give Australia the revenge chance for the rabbits or the frogs
  • As someone raised in Hawaii, I'm pretty shocked that people still think that introducing yet another new species into an ecosystem is going to solve any problems. I thought we all figured this out over 100 years ago?
  • I remember a line from "Cheers"

    Norm: There's a dead possum in the stairwell... at least I hope it's a possum. I hate to think a rat could get that big...

  • by nomadic (141991)
    I do believe that integrated pest management techniques are a valid approach, and that we are going to have a lot of trial and error before we come up with safe and effective approaches to using one species to control another like that. So the part about it failing doesn't really annoy me (and I live in Brooklyn). The part that kind of offends me is that this decision was made by a Community Board, rather than by trained professionals in the NYC or NYS DEPs.
  • Have we not learned from Australia [mongabay.com]?

    We've given Australia plague after plague after plague. From rabbits to buffalo and from camels to toads. And they didn't even keep any captive Jewish slaves. Introducing new species as a way of killing a current one is rarely a good idea.

    What is much, much more effective is introducing large numbers of sterile animals [wikipedia.org] of the same group into the wild though.

    • by nomadic (141991)
      We've given Australia plague after plague after plague. From rabbits to buffalo and from camels to toads.

      Yeah but that was just to mess with them.
  • Alligators now being brought in to deal with Opossum problem. Rats move to Harlem.
  • How many times has man transplanted a wild animal or plant from one place to another to try to eradicate a pest? How many times has it succeeded?

    Earlier this year my SO and I went to St. John, USVI for vacation. We learned how they had a major rat problem on the island back in the 1800's. Some enterprising individual decided to introduce a bunch of mongoose (mongeese?) to the island to eradicate the rats. The only problem is that the rats are nocturnal and mongoose aren't, so they just ended up with a

  • Even if they did elminate the rats we'd still have the same problem...
  • You're misunderstanding the situation. The Possums were not introduced to compete with rats; they were introduced to provide a steady source of protein for the homeless. Unfortunately, they neglected to teach the homeless how to catch 'em.
  • Possum + Rabies? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Jack9 (11421) on Monday September 20, 2010 @03:16PM (#33640242)

    Opossum's are particularly resistant to rabies due to a low body temperature+environment. That's just FUD sensationalism.

    Don't badmouth the opossum like that.

  • I'm surprised they didn't go with mongooses - it worked so well in Hawaii:

    http://www.susanscott.net/Oceanwatch2002/apr19-02.html [susanscott.net]

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Tuesday September 21, 2010 @02:15AM (#33645998)
    New York City is one of the two places in the United States that outlaws ferrets (the other being California, but that is changing). And ferrets are great ratters and mousers. They were widely bred and kept here in the US prior to WW II, for just that purpose: keeping down the mice and rats at farms. And they also make great pets.

    Further, NOWHERE in the Western Hemisphere are there any feral colonies of the domestic variety of ferret. They just don't survive well here outside of captivity.

    So New York, in its "infinite wisdom" (pardon the sarcasm), outlaws ferrets but imports possums, which ARE known to breed in the wild and form feral colonies.

    Yet another reason I don't live in New York. Its leadership has made many decisions of this quality.

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