Seen Any Opossums Lately?
Never thought to record sightings, so cannot absolutely swear, but I’m pretty sure there are more and more ‘possums in the mid Hudson Valley, and I’m convinced it’s Zone Creep, wild animal division. The opossum (Didelphis virginiana) has always had a wide range and can occasionally be found as far north as Canada, but the place you find most of them is the South, so if they are becoming common here…
Opossums are nocturnal except when extremely hungry, so most of the ones you see are the ones that have had encounters with cars. But we’ve surprised them many times on evening trips to the compost. And last week right around teatime there was a good sized one in the bee yard, hoovering up the dead bees that get deposited in front of the hives when it’s warm enough for the survivors to clean house.
This daylight encounter prompted a bit of research. Turns out opossums have a LOT of fans ( who knew?).
Google’s first page offers two – can they possibly be competing? – opossum interest groups, The National Opossum Society and The Opossum Society of the United States, each with perhaps more information than you want or need about North America’s only native marsupial.
* A # 1: Unless you have laying hens, they’re harmless; leave ‘em alone! They can’t hunt anything bigger than rats – to which they’re not related at all, btw. They’re more resistant to rabies than any other common mammal, wild or domestic. And although they’re fond of fruit (“ possum in a ‘simmon tree”…) bigger versions of squirrel baffles are usually effective orchard protectors.
* They’re omnivores but seldom damage vegetables because they much prefer bugs, snails and slugs, carrion, meat scraps, rotten fruit, pet food and sweets.
* Very clean. They groom themselves the way cats do.
* Opposable thumbs on the back feet how cool is THAT.
* 50 teeth – But they only bite as a last resort. If threatened and unable to run away (maximum speed @ 7 miles per hour) they hiss and bare the teeth. If that doesn’t work; they pretend to be dead already, i.e. play possum.
* The male opossum’s we won’t mention it for fear of attracting spam is bifurcated. No lie.
* The scaly, prehensile tail is unlovely , I admit, but c’mon. Opossums have been around for 70 miliion years and while they’re not as cute as koalas they’re a lot better than kangaroos.
(Department of further explanation: The brown sticks in the picture are grapevines; the hives are under the arbor. The wire is part of the electric fence Bill put up after the bears started coming around.)
Photo by Bill Bakaitis