Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Opossum in the window!

I walked into my office - pictured - around 8 am this morning, as usual. A visitor awaited, but I didn't see it right away. As is my custom, I stumbled to my desk and dug into emails and the other stuff that awaits each morning. Around 9 am, I got a phone call and as is often the case when I'm on the phone, I stand up and scan the grounds from the window. As soon as I glanced out the window today, it was WHOA! What a fine marsupial in my tree!

In the photo above, look out the window to the right of the monitor on my mini-fridge, and just up and left of the picture of the red 1992 Ferrari 512 TR (not the first time I've used one of these Italian supercars in relation to a mammal, SEE HERE). A Virginia Opossum, Didelphis virginiana, resting in my crabapple tree!

Look closely on the lefthand limb of the crabapple on the right, and you'll see my (that's right, MY) opossum basking on his branch. He's (could be a girl, I dunno) sitting about three or four feet from my window.

We move in a bit closer to the magnificent beast. The silver rectangle in the window is the back of my fridge that we saw in the first photo.

I work my way in for the close shot, and was greeted with a feeble hiss and a less than frightening baring of 50 teeth. Then he ignored me. But lots of people didn't ignore my opossum. Aided and abetted by your narrator, word spread far and wide through the building that an opossum was lazing in my tree. Drawn by the curious spectacle of the only marsupial occurring in the United States, I had a steady stream of admirers (of the opossum, not me), passing through the office.

They say (them, not me) that all babies are cute. Well, you may think that big ole adult opossum was ugly as a mud fence, but even the naysayers might have to concede that these juvenile opossums are mighty cute. I photographed them last fall; they were in the hands of an animal rehabber.

Back in 2006, I wrote a column about Virginia Opossums in the Columbus Dispatch. It follows:



Virginia Opossum

Perhaps our most successful mammal is also our dumbest. Not to sound crass, but it’s true – Virginia opossums have a marble-sized brain. That’s why you see so many smashed along our roadsides. A dim wit coupled with slow reactions means that opossums never seem to recognize vehicles as threats, as more intelligent mammals like coyotes and red foxes do.

But the fact that we see so many opossums amongst the roadside carnage points to their success – there are lots of them. They’ve been around a while, too – their lineage can be traced back 100 million years.

Tropical in origin, opossums have not yet evolved adaptations like dense fur to protect them in northern winters. Their ears and tail are furless, occasionally leading to frostbite. Still, they continue their expansion, long ago colonizing Ohio and still spreading north.

Didelphis virginiana is North America’s only marsupial (pouch-bearing animal). Like kangaroos, females have a fur-lined pouch on their belly that shelters young. Baby opossums emerge blind and naked, and about the size of a piece of popcorn. In a rough introduction to life, the babies must clamber several inches from the vagina to the pouch immediately after birth. There they remain for 60 days, then stay together as a family unit for three more months. Sometimes the mother will carry the youngsters on her back.

Opossums also have the most teeth of any Ohio mammal – fifty. This dental excess serves them well in their omnivorous habits; opossums are true garbage heads, eating nearly anything they can find.

The term “playing ‘possum” is derived from these beasts. When frightened, they may fall over, let their mouth gape open and ooze saliva, looking thoroughly dead.

Opossums prove that even dummies can be successful.

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4 comments:

Doug Marcum said...

Hahaha - Jim, you crack me up. Both your office story and your 2006 story were great. Thanks for sharing.

Yeah, I try to condition animals to be afraid of roads by laying on my horn anytime I am approaching an animal that would have been killed by a less aware individual OR when an animal is playing too close to the road. I do this just to remind them that it is DANGEROUS!! Recently, I came up on a possum in the road and laid on the horn...the reaction time was absolutely pathetic!! It literally wasn't going to move until I made such a ruckus then it finally got the point! Their senses must not be so keen either...

Junior Barnes said...

These things are truly convincing when playng dead. A few years back a possum made the mistake of making use of a tree to climb into my backyard. My dog caught it, but the possum played dead and my dog was completely fooled! I moved the possum out of the yard and it left unharmed.

Lilac Haven said...

We have one that lives in or near our yard. Every morning I see it under the bird feeder just before dawn. They are fun to watch.

Anonymous said...

I was taking a walk in an urban downtown about the first week of March and saw one of these just ambling around a plaza ...I thought they were mostly nocturnal(?)... I approached it cautiously but it completely ignored me and hopped down a set of stairs. Then I started to think that maybe it was a female and hungry in the persistent bad/cold weather, so out during the day to get some extra food. Do they have young fairly early in the year?