U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


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Walter, W.D., J.W. Fischer, C.W. Anderson, D.R. Marks, T. DeLiberto, W. Robbe-Austerman, and K.C. VerCauteren. 2013. Surveillance and movements of Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) in the bovine tuberculosis region of Michigan. Epidemiology and Infection 141:1498-1503. doi: 10.1017/S0950268813000629.


U.S. government work.


Wildlife reservoir hosts of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) include Eurasian badgers (Meles meles) and brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) in the UK and New Zealand, respectively. Similar species warrant further investigation in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan, USA due to the continued presence of bTB on cattle farms. Most research in Michigan, USA has focused on interactions between white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and cattle (Bos taurus) for the transmission of the infectious agent of bTB, Mycobacterium bovis, due to high deer densities and feeding practices. However, limited data are available on medium-sized mammals such as Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana; hereafter referred to as opossum) and their movements and home range in Michigan near cattle farms. We conducted surveillance of medium-sized mammals on previously depopulated cattle farms for presence of M. bovis infections and equipped opossum with Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to assess potential differences in home range between farms inside and outside the bTB core area that has had cattle test positive for M. bovis. On farms inside the bTB core area, prevalence in opossum was comparable [6%, 95% confidence interval (CI) 2·0–11·0] to prevalence in raccoon (Procyon lotor; 4%, 95% CI 1·0–9·0, P=0·439) whereas only a single opossum tested positive for M. bovis on farms outside the bTB core area. The prevalence in opossum occupying farms that had cattle test positive for M. bovis was higher (6·4%) than for opossum occupying farms that never had cattle test positive for M. bovis (0·9%, P=0·01). Mean size of home range for 50% and 95% estimates were similar by sex (P=0·791) both inside or outside the bTB core area (P=0·218). Although surveillance efforts and home range were not assessed on the same farms, opossum use of farms near structures was apparent as was selection for farms over surrounding forested habitats. The use of farms, stored feed, and structures by opossum, their ability to serve as vectors of M. bovis, and their propensity to ingest contaminated sources of M. bovis requires additional research in Michigan, USA.

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