Facts About Possums ~~ They Are Not Throw Away Animals
Momma and Babies
Who on earth would write about possums? Why would anyone want to know about them?? The same crazy person who would write about any other animal that you might find repugnant.
A little history
Back in 1993 my daughter went to work for the vet who had an office that was just across the alleyway from our backyard fence. How convenient that was.
She had always been a lover of animals. She would drag in frogs, caterpillars, and beg me to bring home any stray kitty she saw along the road.
When she was six, for Christmas we got a pup for her. A precious little wire-haired terrier.An adorable little creature not yet potty trained. She named him TJ.
At night the pup was kept in the kitchen with a baby gate and the floor covered with newspaper. Well, that was how it was supposed to work.
You Probably Can Guess What Happened
IWhat happened was this:
after her daddy and I had gone to sleep, she would sneak out to the kitchen and get the baby. In the morning the papers in the kitchen would be dry, and the baby pup, TJ, would be gone. It did not take much searching to find him. Up in the bed, by Stef.
And on the floor a few little puddles and a couple of extra little deposits of poop.I think this first pup was the real beginning to her love affair with animals. We never could figure out how she could stay awake till we were asleep...I suppose it was the excitement of knowing the soft, warm little critter would soon be by her side.
Are possums of any value???
In this article, I share my daughter's and my experience with having a halfway house for possums. The only reason we ever had possums at our house was because their Momma's had been killed and they would have died had we not rescued them.
Some say that if you go strictly by the laws of nature, it is survival of the fittest and they should have been allowed to die. Of course that is something that each of us will need to sort out for ourselves. We were called to help and we did. It cannot be undone. And, truthfully, if the circumstances were ever presented to me again, I would do it again.
However, they are wild animals and should not be kept as pets.
Getting to Know Them...
Most possums do not grow to adulthood. But if you wonder why you should care whether they do or not, possums really do play an important role in helping our environment. They are part of the earth's clean up committee. They eat all types of insects including cockroaches,.
They catch and eat rats and mice. Dead animals of all types are on their daily buffet usually from which they partake at night. Other foods they enjoy are ripe fruits and berries. Snails and slugs are like escargot to a possum. As you can see they are busy cleaning up for us, most of the time at night while we are sleeping. it appears they actually are a lot of good for our planet.
However, they are wild animals and should not be kept as pets.
Live life like a possum...when you just cannot handle what is going on in your life any more, roll over and play dead for a while. "I'm invisible, you can't see me. I am no longer here." It allows you to free yourself of your burden and move on...
A dream job
When she was offered the job at the vet's office, she was over the moon with excitement. A smorgasbord of animals that she could whisper to throughout each and every day. They had a dialog each day...no one knew what they were saying to each other but the conversations existed.
The animals and she, they had an understanding. They understand that they would cooperate with her and she understood they were much smarter than many humans thought. She understood that they gave of themselves totally, no questions asked.
She had an extraordinary ability to tune in to their body language, the sparkle in the their eyes, the swish and thump of a tail. The door was open and they walked in it together.
Everyone was astounded at how willful dogs and cats would obediently go with her when she went to the lobby to escort them back to an examining room. It was the special kind of magic they shared.
And that is how we became keepers of the possums.
Baby possums arrive
- One Saturday evening, the vet called my daughter. He asked if she would take care of some baby possums. Their Momma had been killed and someone retrieved the babies from her pouch.
Of course, she said she would. The babies were very small and would still be suckling if Momma was still alive. There were six of them and they were hungry. So feeding them became a round the clock affair that required both of us.
They had to eat every two hours so we got little sleep for the first few weeks we had them. We used eye droppers for the feedings which worked quite well.
We had a spare bedroom in our home so we converted it into the nursery. We bought crates and lined them with towels and put a few of the joeys in each one. When it was time for a feeding, we would bring the crates out to the living room. We each would take one out and feed it.
As they grew, they started to play possum. When we would look in the crate, if they were awake, they would fall over on their side, like they were dead. It was as if they were saying, "You can't see me. I am not here."
It was such a fun sight to behold. They did it every time.
Eventually they became less wary of us. They began to let us pick them up when they were awake and it was not feeding time. They liked to be petted much like a kitty does.
Soon they were big enough to take care of themselves and were ready to be released into the wild. We took them to a remote forested area away from traffic and released them. I can still remember that evening. Tears rolled down our cheeks as we watched them wander one by one off into the woods. We wondered if they would find food and if they would be okay.
It was sad but we knew that their place was in the wide open spaces.
This possum is enjoying the heck of this strawberry.
More possums came to our house..
It was not long before we got another call. Someone in Edgewater, a nearby town, called.They had a Momma possum in their truck and they were terrified of it.
Stef went to rescue the Momma. She laughed when she returned home. Two guys had hit a possum with their truck and decided to stop to see how bad its injuries were. This was unusual as most who hit them never look back.
They threw an old blanket over her that they had with them and lifted her into the back of the truck. Then they called Stef. They knew here from high school and knew she was rescuing critters.
When Stef lifted her up to put her in our car, the young boys were yelling at her telling her that she was going to be attacked. But, as you already know, she is the original animal whisperer so the Momma possum understood all was well.
As she was lifting the little Momma up to put her in the box she had brought along to carry her home in, she found her left side was covered in blood and she seemed very weak. When she got her home, she found two joeys in her pouch and removed them.
Momma died in the night before we could even get any help from the vet. That, of course, meant that our new babies needed to be hand fed.
We found we did not need to feed them as often as we had the first group.. With these two it was about every four to five hours which made it possible to get a little more sleep.
A Marsupial Adored by Many
An opossum is a marsupial mammal.That is a rather heavy title to hang on any critter.They are often joked about as road kill. And, it is true many of them can be seen along the side of the road and in the road as we travel to whatever destination we have in mind.
The characteristics of these animals are:
- have fur, skin, or hair
- have live birth
- suckle their young
- most, but not all, have a pouch in which their young continue to develop after birth
The possum has the luxury of having a prehensile tail. While cartoons often picture them as hanging by this tail, it is a legend, a bit of folklore. Due to the weight of the possum, it is not possible. You may spy a very young possum hanging that way but it would only last for a very short period of time.
However the tail is still an extra tool. It helps the possum to steady itself as it moves along a surface. Additionally the possum can use the tail to grasp and object and to carry things. Quite a helpful little appendage it is for these critters.
Possums can be a bit pesky
Possums are not particularly cute at first glance and many find them to be pests. They have been found in trash cans out behind homes, in a garage stowed away warily, and waddling across the backyard on their way to some important destination. Admittedly having an unexpected critter show up in your trash can and making a mess on top it would not be a warm introduction to these animals. Nor would it be fun to walk into your unlit garage and find a guest such as this making a home in and among your boxes and tools
Those things aside, they can be quite lovely.They are not picky eaters so they will eat most everything you offer. They will also go to the food dishes you have set down for your kitties and will begin to eat right along with them.
Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened.— Anatole France
Possums stole our hearts away...
We had no idea at the time but those two possums would become our pets for several months. They grew stronger each day and soon were eating on their own. Gradually we transitioned them to eating with the kitties which they seemed to enjoy.
One of the two possums was solely mine. I named him Nubbins because he was just a little nub of a critter when he stole my heart. He loved me so and I returned that love. From the time he awoke in the morning till he went to bed at night, wherever I was, he was.
He rode around on my shoulder most of the time. I had long hair at the time so he would snuggle up under my hair at the nape of my neck and travel with me throughout the house. It was a glorious time---sharing my life with this animal that I had never even given a second glance at before we started rescuing them. It was such a learning curve. To be welcomed into their world...and to have them share ours was an awe inspiring time for both my daughter and me.
The second possum was pretty much on his own during the day as Stef was working then. Sometimes if it was not a busy day, she would come home and take him to the office with her.
They, like the possums before them, had to be released back into the wild.
Preparing to release
We knew that Nubby and all possums would need to be released into the wild. That had been our goal for them from the day they first came to our house.
Fortunately we had a huge back yard that had much dense undergrowth and many of the palmetto bushes and palm trees that they would soon find in their new home. There were also a few dogwood trees which are not so perfect for possums but for any who wanted to climb they were available. It was the best we had to offer. For the last two to three weeks that we had them before they were released, we transitioned them to the outdoors.
We took them out in small groups for about an hour at a time to begin with so they could become acclimated to what would be very much like their new habitat. They were very timid at first as they discovered what the grass felt like. Gradually they began to explore. This went on daily.
So, as sad as it was, on the day of their release, they excitedly headed off into the area where they were released. It was very similar to what our backyard had been like so it would seem they felt right at home.
Releasing Nubby was one of the most painful experiences I ever had involving animals. He had become a part of our family. It was summer so I was not working and I spent most of the day with my animals.
We had eight cats in addition to being a half way house for wayward animals. Thankfully we had a huge home at that time with a back porch that ran the entire length of the back side of our home. It was a perfect home to live in and have a large number of animals.
I was so glad that we had our kitties because there were two of them that were 'my' kitties and they helped me to recover from having to release Nubby. It was hard. I won't pretend it was not. I cried oceans but I knew that it was best. He belonged in the wild. We took him and the other little guy to the same spot where we had released the first group of possums.
I told my daughter I really did not want any more of them. It was too hard.
Never in a million years would I have thought that a wild animal could become that much a part of my life. But, the reality of it is, he did. And, even today he has a specail place in my heart.
One more possum comes to visit..
Life settled in again after Nubby was gone. And, no new possums came to our house. Until one evening that is.
Late one Saturday, Stef called me to ask if she could bring home an injured possum. This was a male who was full grown. He had an abscess on his tail. Someone had brought him in to the vet's office. He had been found huddled in the corner of that person's garage. Because he was a kind soul, he decided to bring the possum in to the vet to see if he would know what to do with him.
When the vet examined him, he found the abscess. He told Stef he would need to operate on him but could not do it till Monday. He asked if she would take him home for the weekend. And, of course, she agreed to take him.
It was interesting how quickly he adjusted. Interesting too was how quickly the kitties adjusted to him. The most amazing part was that he learned to use the litter box within a few hours. We had put paper down and tried to encourage him to go there. And we went off to do whatever. We came back and saw him coming out of one of the five litter boxes we had. We had the hooded litter boxes so maybe he liked the privacy. He must have watched the kitties go in and out and said, "Ok, I can do that." And, he did.
He sidled up to the breakfast bar with the kitties too. We had many dishes of food out to feed the masses. He decided that their food looked good to him. When they moseyed up to eat, so did he. It was too cute.
The weekend went quickly and it was time for his surgery. Stef took him over and the vet performed the surgery. Of course, afterwards, the possum would need aftercare, right? So, back home he came. He was not our spunky, little boy. He was able to walk but had the swagger of someone who was intoxicated. It was pitiful while being a bit amusing.
After poking around for a bit, he curled up on a small rug where he slept for the rest of the day and all through the night.
Lots of people talk to animals. Not many listen. That's the problem.— Benjamin Hoff
We found out that he would be staying with us longer than we first thought. It was time for a name. Naming him did not take much pondering. Stef said, "I dub thee, Little Boy." This name suited him well and soon was shortened to LB.
LB recovered quickly and did not seem to know he had no tail any longer. We knew that we could not release him with no tail. We just felt it would be the wrong thing to do. So, he became a member of our family. He lived with us for about eighteen months. We went out one morning to greet all of our critters and found him laying on his side. Stef went over and moved him a little and knew he was not playing 'possum.' He had died some time in the night. We are not sure why but we were deeply saddened by his passing. He had become a part of our life like Nubby had and now he was gone. It was another sad passing which is after all a part of this intricate dance we do with the ebb and flow of life.
He had shared his life with us and was leaving us with most beautiful memories of his antics. When I asked Stef the other day why she had loved LB so much and she looked at me and smiled and asked: "Why did you love Nubby so much?"
" I loved that he would climb up on the couch and sleep with me. I loved that he would eat dinner with the cats. Most of all, I loved his clicking sound he made as he walked through the house trying to find me."
It was a wondrous experience getting to know these creatures that we see so often find along the road, left there as if they are throw away animals.
Trust me, my friends, they are not. I do not recommend having them as pets as they are wild and they belong in the wild. We only have the good fortune to get to know them because of unfortunate circumstances for them.
It was an experience that both my daughter and I will both always treasure.
Nocturnal by nature
Possums were not in North America until the Europeans settled this part of the world. Prior to that they were found in Central America. They were brought into this country as pets. Then they accidentally got out or were released. They have learned to adapt to urban life as well as rural living.
They are nocturnal spending most of their time in their dens. Although they can be seen throughout the day if they are searching for food. They generally look for food near their den but will travel as far as two miles from it to find food.
They are often pursued by other critters as a source of food. As a result, they will often move dens so as to throw off the predator. A tracking device was placed on a male possum. He was tracked as moving to 19 different dens in five months.
Brush Tail Possum
Many species of possums
According to answers.com about sixty species of possums can be found in New Guinea, Indonesia, and Australia. The list they included at their site is provided below::
- Ringtail Possum (16 species)
- Common Brushtail possum
- Northern Brushtail possum
- Mountain Brushtail possum
- Coppery Brushtail possum
- Short-eared possum
- Cuscus (22 species)
- Scaly-tailed possum
- Mountain Pygmy possum
- Long-tailed Pygmy possum
- Southwestern Pygmy possum
- Tasmanian Pygmy possum
- Eastern Pygmy possum
- Honey possum
- Leadbeater's possum
- Striped possum
- Feather-tailed possum
- Great-tailed triok
- Long-fingered triok
- Tate's triok
- mahogany glider
- feathertail glider
- sugar glider
- lesser glider (also known as the yellow bellied glider)
- greater glider
- squirrel glider
- Biak glider
- northern glider
We learned from our possum friends and from other critters we have been blessed to have in our lives:
- love without condiiton
- be willing to give and to receive
- accept more, judge less
- play possum sometimes...
- listen and be still...you might have a bit of the animal wihsperer in you
© 2013 Patricia Scott
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