NATURE NOTE – Number 59 December 28, 2022
Some animals out there in the wild are quite different than others in various and many ways. Let’s end the year with one of those different ones we frequently see, and one that is certainly a finalist for the ugliest critter:
Our Current Topic: the Possum
Either Possum or Opossum is an accepted name, so don’t try and impress your high-society friends by using “Opossum” at your next social gathering conversation. You can use its official name, the Virginia Possum (Dipelphis virginia) and tell them it’s the only North American possum species, but it has lots of relatives in South American. You can also tell them it has more teeth (50) than any other North American land-based mammal, and its name is derived from an Indian word that was used by the early Jamestown settlers. By now I’m sure your friends will want to know more about possums. So here is more: weighing 8-13 pounds, with an average life span of two years (they can live up to 6 or 7) they often have 2 litters of 6 young each season. The young spend the first two months of their life in the mother’s pouch feeding on her conveniently located milk. This particular characteristic classifies them as a marsupial – like kangaroos. Once out of the pouch, the babies cling to mom’s back and tail for several weeks before they set out on their own to eat most anything: carrion, insects, eggs, fruit, berries, fish, small mammals, and lots of things in your garbage can or compost pile. A true omnivore. Perhaps the most endearing trait of this animal is that it acts like nature’s sanitary engineer. Maybe its strangest diet item is ticks. Lots of them. Oh, and they seem to be immune to venomous snake bites and apparently don’t acquire or transmit rabies because their low body heat is too low to sustain the rabies virus. Pretty impressive, huh? You’ll usually find them at night using their large eyes and excellent night vision. They prefer to live in underground holes excavated by some other animal such as a ground hog, or under your back porch or your barn floor. A forested neighborhood is not required. They are noted, of course, for their ability to “play possum” when threatened and their habit of hissing, growling, drooling and teeth showing fails to work. They just roll over or curl up, stick out their tongue and appear to be dead – for up to six hours! This seems to work, as most of their predators will walk off assuming their prey is dead. These include dogs, foxes, coyotes, large hawks, and the Great horned owl. Those possums you see in the middle of the highway are probably not playing possum. Their slow nocturnal stroll across the road often makes them a victim of a F150 or SUV.
So you are now well prepared with conversation material for your next wedding reception or church social, or maybe with your scouts on their next outing. This is an animal most of them have seen, dead or alive, at some point. Spread your knowledge about possums and nature. Glad I could help, but don’t bother to send me any possum stew. And happy New Year!
More NATURE NOTES to follow in two weeks. Remember to keep nature in your scouting program as you move into 2023. Talk to me at