Thursday, November 01, 2007

That's No Bunny!

As I often get a Cottontail visitor to the feeding area around midnight or one, I rather automatically while thinking about something else, flipped on the back light and looked out to see if she was there. YOW! That's no bunny, that's ah...that's an Opossum! Yes, there unconcernedly chewing bird corn was an example of North America's only marsupial, Didelphis virginiana.

Possum just looked up with his black shoe button eyes and kept chewing completely unfazed about the light or me looking out the door. I dropped the drape, turned out the indoor lights, grabbed the camera, and then crept slowly back under the drape to try for a photo. Possum looked up and then utterly ignored me.

I'd never realized how lush a possum's fur is. It looks wonderfully soft. I had a real urge to feel it. I said urge, not irresistible impulse. That was stayed by the fact that opossum have 50 extremely sharp teeth and when unhappy show said teeth while hissing and drooling at the same time. I think not.

Okay, you know how I am about avian feet so I had to find out about our only marsupial's feet. Hmm, rather fascinating but not nearly as cute as bird feet even though these are pink. Turns out possums have a number of "onlys" in their arsenal. They're our only North American animal with a back toe that works like an opposable thumb. Peculiarly the thumb toe doesn't have a toenail like all the others in front.

Suddenly it struck me, this is the guy who's been eating my cantaloupe off the vine. Ditto, for all those tomatoes, green pepper, and watermelon. THIS is my fruit and vegetable thief!

When it comes to food, possums are not picky. They'll eat mice, birds, worms, garbage, carrion, whatever is handy, and as said above, a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, including bird corn. Corn being a winter staple for them around here. Carrion, as in roadkill, is what gets them into trouble with cars. These guys don't move very fast. And then of course if they don't run but "play possum" it doesn't work too well either as a strategy. Though it's best to miss them if possible for more than altruistic reasons. When they go into their death mode strategy, besides the glazed eyes, insensibility, and tongue hanging out, they emit a horrendous odor. I always wondered why animals who don't eat carrion wouldn't eat these guys anyway. Hey, they're still fresh. They may be but they sure don't smell that way.

Between the position of the back patio light and the spattered glass door, my pictures are dreck. I decide to carefully slide the door open. He doesn't even look up. I take a few photos. No problem. I'm only about 7 feet away and he doesn't seem to care. Perhaps I could get a foot closer and a better angle?

I crossed the invisible boundary. Not that opossum scurried or anything. He just slowly turned around and began waddling. First behind the planter, waddled back into view, then waddled behind a tree, back out again and kept going. All I could think about after getting over the exceedingly slow retreat was that his tail looked a whole lot like a big carrot in this light.

Speaking of his tail, it's another "only". It's prehensile like a monkey's . The possum can use it for climbing purposes. Young OP's even hang by their tails, but after putting on enough weight, a mature possum is 6 to 15 pounds, they get too heavy and if they try it, promptly land on their heads.

They aren't picky about habitat either, though they'd prefer a nearby source of water. I begin to wonder if he's taken up residence in my brush pile. Brush piles being a favorite place to get out of the weather as opossum don't hibernate in winter. Rather they'll just hold up somewhere when things are particularly inclement and mosey back out again when it calms down.

Well, as my fruits and veggies have been disappearing all summer, he may just have taken up residence under all those branches stacked up next to the house. I thought I'd made cover for birds. Well you just never know with nature do you?. I'm going to keep an eye on the brush pile and see what else Mr. Opossum may be up to.

Donegal Browne

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