Saturday, January 26, 2008

What Became of the Oppossum?

...Someone wrote to inquire.

The barking was because it was on the other side of another fence (not shown in the picture) where they couldn't reach. In typical possum mode, it was just sitting there like a statue when I first investigated the barking, slightly to one side of the fence. In the time it took me to walk to the house, find the camera, etc., it had moved maybe 2 feet to the position you see it in...and stayed exactly there while I leaned over one fence and around another to get this shot of it less than 4 feet from me. I never saw it move the least little muscle...not even detectable breathing.

I took the dogs in with me, and I imagine it wandered slowly off. It may be living in my new barn or the neighbor's horse barn. It might be the mysterious creature I suspect is stealing eggs from the nest boxes. At any rate, its most likely fate is flat on the road some day.

I'm pretty tolerant of possums. They can eat eggs, kill young chickens, even rarely older ones...but they are pretty minor predators, and sort of cute in their own primitive, piggly way. They are North America's only marsupial (young are born as tiny fetuses, then "gestate" in a pouch on Mom's belly until they are ready to survive outside), and they have more teeth than any other warm-blooded critter (88, if I remember right...more than twice what we have). Their tail is very strong and is prehensile (an extra "hand" for clinging onto trees), so if I need to remove one from a chicken house I can pick it up by the tail (usually with leather gloves) to carry it off, held well out from my side in case it would try to catch my clothing in its hand-like little paws and try to climb me. They just sit/hang there while you do that...all their motions are like the proverbial molasses in January. Their fastest gait is a waddle, barely faster than my slow walking pace. They may bare their awesome snaggly jagged teeth at me and hiss, but that's about it.

When dogs get them, they really do play dead. I've watched a dog toss a possum around for some time, audibly crunching bones over and over before the dog eventually got bored and wandered off. I was certain it was dead...only to return to the spot hours later and find it had wandered off.

Their other defense is a gland under their tail that exudes green pus-like "musk", skunky but thankfully not aerosol.

They make me smile just to think such a thing can exist and blunder through life, generation after generation, for millions of years with so little in its favor! Gives me hope for myself, if I just keep muddling slowly along.....

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