It seems every time I post anything about possums, I hear a number of negative comments. Now while it is true the positive comments outweigh the negatives, it still kind of hurts to still hear people have bad reactions about those filthy, rabies infested, worthless, lets see, what else, oh, yes, vicious, shoe eating monsters. Yep, shoe eating… I loved that one and could get no reason for the comment, just that this person was sure that a little 150 gram, 3 inch possum baby was gonna eat her shoes! SIGH. Now, I try to be tolerant with the UUUUUUUUUGLEEEEEEEE comments. After all, beauty is in the eye of the Bee Holder, (or possum holder, as the case may be…) and I try not to hold on to any bees, myself. And I do have my own prejudices about what is cute and what is UGLY… As much as I love most dogs, I find certain dogs unpleasant to my eye, and even though I am a cat lover, I still do not appreciate the “beauty” of hairless cats. I am sure if someone dropped one off at my house I would learn to love it, but I sure would not put one on my Christmas list, if you know what I mean. Not many humans I would have on my Christmas list, either (and I promised not to mention Richard Gere again, let alone post his picture) but then there are not many humans who would have me on their list either unless it included my bank account numbers, BUT I digress…
- There is NO record of possums ever having rabies. Nope, it just doesn’t seem to happen. So if you happen to corner a little guy and scare him into hissing at you and showing you all of his 50 sharp teeth, he will bite if you stick your hand in his face –unless he decides to “drop dead” and, well, you know, play possum… but you will NOT get rabies from a possum bite should you be dumb enough to stick your fingers in his mouth.
- “They are so stupid, they stand right on the edge of the road waiting for a car to come along and hit them.” Who is stupid? The little creature who is blinded by your headlights and freezes (because that is what possums do – they freeze when they are alarmed, and it kept them alive for millions of years until cars came along) or the all powerful human who gets some kind of power rush by steering over to the edge of the road to see if he can squash some poor little helpless critter? Stupid is as stupid does. If you believe in God, do you score points by running over his little helpless creations, the very same ones that actually do GOOD for humans?
- “They destroy property – they are varmints” (varmit, on the Eastern Shore) (Any animal, usually from a fox sized animal or smaller, that causes destruction to property. Most likely to be squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, and groundhogs.) My cousin swears one tunneled down beside his cellar wall causing a crack in the wall. They do NOT tunnel. And even though they have those little fingers and what look like thumbs, they do not have the dexterity of a raccoon. They are good at catching bugs and hanging on to them for a snack, but they will not screw the cap off something you left outside, or pry bricks loose in your foundation.
- They will NOT dig up your plants, pull out your newly planted pansies (unless they are courting and are trying to impress the ladies by bringing them flowers) nor will they dig up any crops. They are NOT diggers.
- The TRUTH is – possums are omnivorous. Not only will they eat bugs, they eat mice, rats, and best of all, they LOVE copperheads. Yep, that nasty little varmint will keep your place snake free, along with mouse and rat free.
- “They eat my cat food that I put out for MY CATS!” Yep, they eat mine sometimes, too. Funny thing is, they can’t read the words PSYCHO KITTY on the bowl. But MY bigger problem is the coons who not only eat the left over cat food, they tear everything apart on the carport that they can get their little paws onto… the possum eats and leaves. Period. The coons even carry the dishes out to the woods!
- “One attacked my cat the other night.” Oh, if only you could see the “get real” expression on my face right this minute. And hear this BIG SIGH! (eyes rolling, fanning myself…) Even if your cat cared to attack the possum (and I have never seen that) he would just roll over and – c’mon, you can say it – play possum… until the cat got bored.
Then there is the sex life of the possum. I must confess, it is a bit, um, different. Go ahead, google it. Mr. Possum has a double barreled tally-whacker. (I learned that word from Cousin Boo down in Alabama, nearly had a stroke laughing, but it has become my favorite name for, um, those boy parts, you know…) Yep, I can just hear all the dirty possum jokes, twice as many possibilities as people jokes, if only we could understand them. And the female is built to handle twice the trouble, as it were. Or twice the fun, as it might be for some… but I refuse to get into possible possum private part word play.
If you are really interested, google opossum reproduction, and you will see how unique our little American possum is compared to other marsupials. A quote from the opossumsocietyus.org website says:
The reproductive system of the opossum has fascinated many and has led to interesting folklore. It was once believed that the male opossum mated through the female opossum's nose. She then sneezed the young through her nose and into the pouch. Of course, this is not true. There are several reasons why this belief was held. One reason is that opossums are so small at birth it is difficult to witness the event. Observers had seen the female with an empty pouch one day. The next day she was seen with her nose in the pouch making sneezing sounds. Later, upon examination of the pouch, tiny embryos were found. Actually, the female opossum was either cleaning the pouch prior to the birth or licking the area to soothe her swollen teats. Another reason for this belief is the shape of the male opossum's penis. It is bifurcated, like a 2 pronged fork. It was believed that the shape of the penis was a perfect fit for the female opossum's nose. This isn't true either. The female has an internal, bifurcated reproductive tract as well.
Opossum sperm are interesting? Sperm heads align and pair inside the male reproductive tract during sperm maturation. The sperm are ejaculated as pairs and remain paired inside the female reproductive tract until just prior to fertilization at which time the paired sperm separate into single spermatozoa. Why this fascinating process occurs and why it occurs only in the American marsupials and not the Australian marsupials is not completely understood The pairing of spermatozoa may increase sperm motility in the female reproductive tract and/or may help protect the sperm acrosomes during passage n the female tract.
Anyway, after the moment of romance is over, he goes his way, she goes hers, and in about 12 days, she “gives birth… The infants are so small at birth that 20 could fit into a teaspoon. Each of the hairless, embryonic-looking "pinkies" are no larger than the size of a bee or a dime and weigh approximately 0.13 grams. At birth, the infants must make a long and difficult journey from the birth canal into the pouch, latch onto a teat, and continue their development. The mother helps by licking the hair leading into the pouch, providing a moist path for the infants to follow.
The little ones stay in the pouch for a couple of months, open their eyes at approximately 3 months, which is around the same time as they are weaned. They ride on their mama’s back for a while, and at around 4-5 months, they toddle off on their own. Generally they are about 7 to 9 inches long at this point, nose to rump.
The rabies scare might come from another trick the possum has of playing sick –
An opossum will work its jaw until excessive drool forms and it is actually blowing bubbles out of its nose! Heavy drooling causes a predator to think the opossum is sick and consequently unappetizing.
Well, that would do it for me. So there he is, foaming at the mouth and rolling over like he is dead… unless you are a buzzard, doesn’t look like anything you might want to eat, so, most predators just walk away. But if you go back in 10 minutes, your little possum has disappeared. Amazing.
Possums are solitary animals unless it is a mama carrying a bunch of babies around. and they do not seem to stay in one nesting spot for very long, maybe a few days, maybe a couple of weeks, maybe longer if in the busy stage of pregnancy, birth and rebirth, but they are not going to destroy your property by building a nest. They will use what they find, maybe shred up some paper if it is available, move some leaves or sticks, but not tear a hole thru your soffit or vents to get inside.
So, the long and short of it is, if you have possums around your house, maybe visiting on a regular basis, that can be a very good thing. That means, the chances are, you will have few if any mice or rats, you will probably never see a copperhead, and your bigger, crunchier bugs will be eaten as snacks. A few years ago we had quite a few humongous spiders out on the carport. I am talking BIG – bigger than a silver dollar, but not the skinny daddy longlegs type. Big and fat… not quite the tarantula type, but somewhere in between. Then a little possum discovered the cat food and started visiting on a regular basis. The spiders disappeared.
An interesting note on possum’s diets, or at least on the possums we have had that were too badly injured to be released… they will not eat food that has been frozen. If we ate out and I got flounder, for example, and it had been frozen before it was cooked, PITA would not eat it. She LOVED raspberry yogurt, but would not eat it if it was sweetened with aspartame (Equal). She would sniff it and then turn and look at me with one of those “You really think I am going to eat this crap?” looks. I do know that look… little kids and cats have that look mastered early on unlike dogs and raccoons who it seems will eat anything.
So if you have a little visitor around your place, welcome him or her. Hope he stays around and keeps your place really “var mit” free. If it is real dry, you might want to keep water on the ground level. Note my St Francis birdbath. And, I have several other old big dog sized water dishes out and about, usually tucked into the edges of the fern gardens. Old pieces of fruit, bananas, apricots, etc, are left out for critters to eat. Usually the deer eat the apples, the possum eats the softer things. So remember the next time you see one of those little nocturnal visitors, he is a friend. Be nice to him.