NEED TO APPRECIATE POSSUMS
wanted to show the grandkids one of the coolest animals in America that
most people have seen more often dead than alive. Anyone who spends
much time driving, day or night, has seen more dead possums than live
ones because of roadkill. This is regrettable because they are one of
the most underappreciated animals around. I've never met a live possum
I didn't like, especially the one we named Will Rogers, and so I brought
Will home for show-and-tell on the back deck.
I am not
recommending that people take up raising possums for pets, but the educational
outreach program at the Savannah River Ecology Lab usually has one or
two around. Unharmed baby possums taken from road-killed mothers can
be raised with a high success rate. They are one of the most benign
mammals around. Even a wild adult possum can be safely picked up by
the tail. But they will bite, so I do not recommend this exercise. As
with many wild animals, adults are not as appreciative of their human
handlers as those raised as babies.
brought Will home, he was great. All of the grandkids picked him up
under his front legs and carried him around like a big puppy.
sissy of a Doberman watched him eat out of its food bowl. Our daughter
Susan told the story of the time she looked out on their porch to see
Spencer, her fat, worthless but amiable cat and a wild possum eating
out of the same food bowl. She noted that Spencer looked a little confused
but kept eating. So did the possum.
to the grandkids that possums are accustomed to being called dumb and
that I was sure more formidable predators of the night like coons and
coyotes make fun of possums constantly about how short-lived they are.
life span in the wild is not much more than a year or two. I told them
that possums are the only American marsupials and are more closely related
to kangaroos than to rats and mice.
told them that possums are immune to the venom of rattlesnakes and are
not known to get rabies. Take that, raccoons. Because of their short
life span, possums are used in gerontology research to understand phenomena
related to old age.
old possum of more than 2 years is likely to have cataracts and show
reproductive senility. Possums are ideal research animals because they
have a lot of babies and are easily reared in captivity. Thus, within
two years the researcher has a population of old individuals that can
be studied for some of the same aging characteristics experienced by
learned something myself about possums that night. I asked one of the
grandkids to put Will Rogers back in his cage so we could leave him
on the porch overnight. But I didn't check to see that the cage was
properly closed and latched.
evening, after everyone had left, I decided to do a bed check to make
sure Will was OK. I stepped onto the deck, flipped on the outdoor light
and was startled to see a possum waddling through the yard right at
the edge of the woods.
I ran and
caught up to it. Even I can outrun a possum. I scooped it up and began
carrying it back to the cage with plans of later showing a grandchild
how to properly lock a possum cage.
moment of amazement brought me to a halt as I got to the deck. Will
Rogers was sleeping in his cage. The one I was holding was a wild one,
which explained why it was hissing at me with its mouth open.
learned: You can actually pick up a wild possum under its front legs
like a puppy, if you don't know what you are doing.
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