Wednesday, February 17, 2010

An interesting visitor



This is Diddle, so named because of his scientific genus Didelphis virgiana. Diddle sometimes shows up in the evenings to vacuum the areas under the bird feeders. He cleans up the seeds and hulls the birds miss.

As a young child, I never remember seeing an opossum around our home which is odd since we lived in a very rural area. Probably our collie, who always had the run of the place, kept them away. My first encounter was at grade school. Somehow one had gotten into the coat room of the old country schoolhouse and our teacher promptly called the sheriff. The deputy walked up to it, grabbed it by the tail and handed it off to his partner in the patrol car. Holding the opossum by the tail out the open window, they told us they were going to drive it down to the woods and let it go. We all stood at the windows watching the little creature hang limply out the window as the sheriff's car drove slowly away. Some of us waived goodbye to it as children will do:)




Some very interesting things I learned about opossums:

They are usually nocturnal and seldom seen in warmer months but will come out to forage for food during the daylight in winter months.

From a health viewpoint, opossum's immune systems are better than most animals and they groom themselves like finicky house cats. They are unlikely to spread disease, in fact much more unlikely than dogs or cats. Opossums have a great natural resistance to rabies.

They are not territorial and tend to wander. They shift den sites frequently throughout their short lifespan (1-4 years).

Learning and discrimination tests rank opossums above dogs and and put them at about the level of pigs.

They will eat almost anything including rats and mice and they consider slugs and snails a delicacy. They are immune to viper venom and will sometimes eat snakes.

They don't attack and seldom bite. When confronted by an enemy they sometimes hiss and show 50 fearsomely pointed teeth. If that doesn't discourage the attacker, they go into a shock like state which often makes the attacker believe the animal is sick or dead.

Opossums have opposable 'thumbs' on their hind feet.

They are the only marsupial found in the US or Canada.

In a letter, Captain John Smith gave us the first English language description of the opossum in 1608. "An Opassom hath an head like a Swine, and a taile like a Rat, and is of the bignes of a Cat. Under her belly she hath a bagge, wherein shee lodgeth, carrieth, and sucketh her young."

According to some sources, the name opossum comes from "apasum" an Algonquin Indian word meaning "white animal".






Possum Crossing by Nikki Giovanni

Backing out the driveway
the car lights cast an eerie glow
in the morning fog centering
on movement in the rain slick street

Hitting brakes I anticipate a squirrel or a cat or sometimes a little raccoon
I once braked for a blind little mole who try though he did
could not escape the cat toying with his life
Mother-to-be possum occasionally lopes home . . . being
naturally . . . slow her condition makes her even more ginger

We need a sign POSSUM CROSSING to warn coffee-gurgling neighbors:
we share the streets with more than trucks and vans and
railroad crossings

All birds being the living kin of dinosaurs
think themselves invincible and pay no heed
to the rolling wheels while they dine
on an unlucky rabbit

I hit brakes for the flutter of the lights hoping it's not a deer
or a skunk or a groundhog
coffee splashes over the cup which I quickly put away from me
and into the empty passenger seat
I look . . .relieved and exasperated ...
to discover I have just missed a big wet leaf
struggling . . . to lift itself into the wind
and live



44 comments:

Cameron (Defining Your Home) said...

You know your 'possum tales!

Where I grew up, we called them the "armadillos of the Uwharries" (our foothills) for fun. I've never seen a real armadillo, but I've seen many opossums. They can really hiss!

Watch out if you have a cat door. They are smart enough to figure out how to go through one. Don't ask me how I know.

Cameron

Michelle said...

My first memory of a opossum was watching one get hit by a large farm tracter. I was quite stunned. I cried hysterically! Of course the farmer didn't want them around since they hurt his animals but I will never forget that site.

I have walked up on one in a field. He played dead for a very long time! He got up and ran once we walked a way.

sweet bay said...

They're smart?!

Perhaps their slow reactions are why they are always getting hit by cars. They move so slowly it's a little freaky.

Moonstone Gardens said...

I thibnk they are adorable- like something out of a story book. I remember rescuing 5 babies from my boss who wanted to kill them when they (and their parents) invaded his nursery. I scurried around catching the babies and putting them in a box before he caught them. I let them go by the river. Sadly, Mom and Dad didn't fare as well. Later on, I understood his ire against them a little when a large male started getting into my hen house and carting off my chickens. But I still think they are adorable.
Cindee

Dirty Girl Gardening said...

We don't have any of those in the bay area... not that I've seen anyway. How adorable!

Susie said...

Hey Marnie, I loved reading all about he opossum. I didn't know they were that smart tho. I have seen all 50 of their sharp little teeth up close when someones dog had one pinned in a tree.

Dog_geek said...

I think we have Diddle's little brother cleaning up under our bird feeders. We have spotted a tiny little fellow a few times now - part of the reason we keep all the birdfeeders outside of the fenced-in dog area. I had no idea that they were that smart!

Cheryl said...

Diddle is just so cute. I loved reading the facts....what an amazing creature. I loved the fact they play dead.....

Kathleen said...

Very interesting. I know next to nothing about opossums. I've never seen one either but don't live in very rural parts. They sound pretty harmless and actually good to have around (if they will eat mice & rats!) A couple years ago I could have used one when I drew in mice from feeding the birds!
btw, I don't know if you saw my comment back to you on writing but I am interested in the romance genre. I haven't ever joined a writers group but it sounds interesting ~ or could it be another thing to spend time on???!!!!

Gail said...

I have always liked them! Anything that interesting looking deserves to be loved! Last year we had a juvenile crawl up the french drain and get stuck in the down spout! I rescued him and was rewarded with hissing and that great show of teeth. It worked! I put a tarp around the downspout and left an opening for him to escape! gail

Darla said...

YUCK!!

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I did a post about one that Luna made play dead. It would show its teeth but just lay there. It was amusing. Luna soon lot interest when it wouldn't run. She loves to chase animals. I guess it is the shepherd in her.

I can remember when my Daughter was sitting in the driveway after a date and she came screaming into the house "come out here and see them". It was an opossum with babies hanging all over it waddling up our driveway.

Bill S. said...

Interesting little critter. Too cold around here for them. I need something to clean up the sunflower seed shells.

BeadedTail said...

Very interesting to learn more about opossums! We have one that lives under our deck and has had babies under there two years in a row. I was always worried about them giving a disease or something to Sadie since she stops and sniffs at it from above the deck. It's good to know they don't have rabies and are clean critters!

beckie said...

Marnie, I certainly learned some new facts from reading your post. I think they are the homeliest creatures on God's green earth. But after what you have written, I will give them more respect.

Monica has photos on her latest post of an oppossum that came to her bird feeder. They must be really hungry this time of the year.

tina said...

I just came from Monica's blog and she too had a possum appearing around her place during the day. Now I know why! They must have a difficult time finding food in the winter time to make them come out during the day. They sound so interesting. I know the one we had in our yard wasn't a bother at all-except to the dogs. Interesting about their grooming and immune systems. So good to see you posting!

Dawn said...

I love that peom! Haven't we all been there? Oh, and call me weird but I think a opossum's nose is so cute!

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Hi Marnie, I guess the correct name is Opossum---but down here in 'de mountains of Tennessee, we say POSSUM.... ha ha

He is a cute little guy... We have them here--but I don't see them often. I did see a raccoon not long ago---and a skunk.

Hugs,
Betsy

walk2write said...

Interesting post, Marnie. Maybe scientists should be studying why those critters' immune systems are so strong. You would think that cleaning up what the birds leave behind would knock out the fiercest immunity.

Monica the Garden Faerie said...

Hi Marnie, I just recently had an opossum visit my feeders, too (and just blogged about it). Your photos are much better and your opossum is more variegated than mine, LOL! :)

Rose said...

Fascinating info, Marnie! The possums must be having a hard time this winter. I had a visitor a month ago, as you may recall, and Monica just posted a photo of her visitor yesterday. All this information is so reassuring--I thought mistakenly that they could carry rabies. And I had no idea they were so intelligent. But that makes sense--why not "play dead" to avoid a fight with a bigger creature:)

Love the poem! I, too, brake for all kinds of things, often spilling my coffee in the process.

rosey said...

how adorable. Love the poem

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

Possums & I go way back, to when my parents (city-born & bred) found a baby one in the window well of our new house in McHenry. They thought it was rat & poisoned it. Several years ago I had several of them hanging around the house one winter. One even came up onto the back porch. It was probably the same one that chose the garden as the place to breathe it's last. (Look, kids - it's a dead opossum!). I haven't seen any recently. I wonder if foxes eat opossums?

Skeeter said...

We see Opossum in our yard and I have always stayed clear of them for fear of disease. I always viewed them as a dirty rat type critter. I am so glad you posted this wonderful information on them as now I know they are not so dirty after all! I will view them differently from now on! My something new learned today!!! I always feel so badly for them when I see them dead on the roadside. Poor things were just out looking for a meal and then splat. Sigh….

Andrea said...

Great post. I just saw my first this winter in the North East. Love all the info and poem. A~

joey said...

This must be the year of the opossum, Marnie ... they seem to be everywhere, including many posts! I often see them in the neighborhood and had to take down the library window bird feeder ... too many critters, seeking food, fell into the window well! Diddle is the perfect name for this cutie.

ShySongbird said...

A really interesting post Marnie. We don't have Opossums here at all but they are fascinating creatures and I didn't realise they were so intelligent. Strangely enough I have just seen one on another blog.

Grace Peterson said...

Hi Marnie~~ I was an adult before I saw my first possum and they were fairly common in Portland. Then I moved 80 miles south and again, no possums but plenty of raccoons. I think if it weren't for the hairless rat-like tail I might find them less, icky. Thank you for sharing your findings. They are very interesting creatures and they're certainly welcome to the slugs and snails in my garden.

Morning Glories in Round Rock said...

Very interesting information, Marnie. I never knew they were so smart. They always kind of freak me out, because they are so BIG and slow. I will look at them with new respect the next time I run across one.

A home far away said...

Lovely photos!

Have a great weekend
Hugs Gunilla in Singapore

Balisha said...

I met up with one in the dark here last year. I went to see if the water was turned off and put my hand down..remember it was dark...and felt to find the faucet and heard a hiss...jumped back and got away quick. Turned on the outside lights and there he was,still right there where he had been.I don't mess around in the dark now...Thanks for all the info on these little creatures.
Balisha

Nezzy said...

Heeeheehe! I'm just thrilled I'm not the only farm chick who names the wild critters. Great shots of your furry little friend.

Have a fun day and a wonderfully blessed weekend!!!

troutbirder said...

Fascinating. You upped my knowledge on this creature about 200%, Think I've only seen one in my entire life.

Kelly@LifeOutOfDoors said...

Great picture! I'm visiting for the first time - got a link to you from Catherine in WA. All my garden in Philly seems to attract is squirrels. Although - we have pure black squirrels. I've only ever seen them in about the 5 block area around my house. Pretty cool. I'll have to try to snap a pic of one - maybe while there is still snow on the ground. Beautiful photos all over your site - thanks for sharing.

Jan (Thanks For Today) said...

We've had a couple in our yard at different times. Once, after I had put fruit out on the deck for the birds, one came up at night and stood on the railing, then got onto the table and started to eat. It 'froze' when we shined a light on it to get a photo. Their beady eyes are a bit 'eerie' looking, especially when glowing in the dark from a flashlight shining on them!

*Ulrike* said...

I never knew some of those things about a possum. Of course since I have chickens I would not be too fond of having them around!

Daffodil Planter said...

Well, well. All these years I thought they were dumb. Thank you for a wonderful post-info, stories, photos and a poem too!

Msrobin said...

You know, that's a lot more than I've ever know about possums! They do have kind of cute little "hands" there in the front, like they are wearing black, fingerless gloves!

Together We Save said...

Gross!!

Muhammad khabbab said...

Never saw a opossum before.

Naturegirl said...

Marnie: I have always welcomed the opossum to my garden.I would peek out my window every night and notice it cleaning up the wasted seeds under my feeders.This past winter I have NOT seen my visitor..I found your info very interesting and confirms why I love them. I think it is the long tails that turn off many could be fans.

Yarrow said...

We all adore the little possum, it's unanimous!

I'm always amazed by the wonderful pictures you capture :)

Carol said...

Hi Marnie, I am catching up on visits... funny I just saw one of these critters in my garden and googled them. I will post my fellow in a few days. I had never seen them here before but know they are about... when I spoke out at it he turned around and came in my direction allowing me to get great photos! Great photos, info and poem.

Kerri said...

I love your possum photos, Marnie! They're funny little creatures. We have one that comes into the barn and eats the cat food.
They can be vicious and will sometimes kill kittens, but all our females are spayed now so we don't have to worry about that anymore.