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America's only Marsupial

Updated on June 26, 2012

So, what is an Opossum?

As a newcomer to the Texas landscape, and, in fact, as a legal “alien,” I became disturbed by humans’ seeming disconnection with their fellow creatures. Shortly after my arrival in this great United States, I was quietly inhabiting an urban apartment, when I discovered that a creature new to me had been trapped in a steel cage. It was a Saturday morning and midsummer in Texas, which is frankly, scorching. The poor animal was trapped in the cage and left in the merciless sun. I felt terribly upset for it. The management office was closed, so I tried to contact animal control only to discover that they were closed for the weekend. I subsequently discovered that animal control would only put these animals down.

Baby Opossum

Baby opossum hissing to protect itself after having been injured
Baby opossum hissing to protect itself after having been injured | Source

We like opossums because...

I didn’t know what to do next. I went online to discover that opossums, or possums as they are known around here, eat a variety of things, from fruit and veggies to all manner of insects, rodents and even snakes. Furthermore, opossums are more resistant to rabies than any other mammal, humans included. Additionally, opossums limit the spread of Lyme disease by killing off most disease carrying ticks that feed on them. I didn’t know whether I could release this animal and was hesitant to do so, so I did the next best thing and moved the cage into the shade. Then I went to the store to procure a water feeder and some fruit. A fire engine was parked outside the store, with firemen in attendance. They were doing a public relations exercise and educating the public. I approached one of the men to ask what kind of animal the possum is. To my surprise, I was told that it was a rodent, which confirmed my opinion that there is much ignorance here about animals and America’s natural heritage. The opossum has a rat-like tail and a long snout with fifty sharp teeth, but they are, in fact, America’s only marsupial mammal, which I think is really cool! For the first 2-3 months, the mom carries her babies in her pouch. Thereafter, they hitch a ride on her back for another month or two. The possum’s tail is prehensile, but unlike monkeys, they do not hang by their tails. So, what’s not to like??

Save a life

I attached the water to the cage and threw some cut apple between the bars. The possum was SO thankful for the life-sustaining food and water and lapped thirstily. I went inside trying to figure out what to do next. Later in the afternoon, I went downstairs to check on the animal. Someone had ripped out the water feeder and moved the cage so that the food was no longer within reach. I was terribly upset at the inhumanity of the individual. Luckily, my neighbor emerged from her apartment and found me very upset. When I explained the situation, she suggested we move the animal to some open ground. She had a truck (I was not yet driving here) and so we went to pick up the cage. The possum was very frightened and began hissing at us and backing into a corner, showing all its teeth. We did a wise thing next and covered the cage with a towel. Almost immediately, the animal calmed down and became silent. We lifted the cage onto the bed of the truck and drove some distance to an open field. With both our hearts pounding, my neighbor, hands protected by thick gloves, bent down to spring the door open. After a little time trying to figure it out, the door opened and immediately our little friend scurried into the bushes. With a sense of relief and happiness, we returned the cage to its original position at the apartments, door shut and animal released!

Opossums are our friends - they have lived since dinosaur days

I learned many things that day. It saddens me greatly that animals around us are so greatly misunderstood. Opossums are the gardener’s best friend. They eat rotting vegetation and insects and keep the grounds rodent and snake-free. They are nocturnal creatures, not causing harm to other animals, property or humans. They are solitary and in fact, have a pretty hard time surviving. I am sure everyone is aware of the possum playing dead. They are not good at self-defense and prefer to avoid confrontation. People dislike these animals because they are apparently ugly. The way they protect themselves is by falling down and emitting the smell of dead carrion which deters other animals from attacking. I have been pleasantly surprised by having opossums visit my door for a drink of water or some leftover cat food in the wee hours of the night when all is still. Then one can clearly hear their lapping or licking of the food bowl which they hold with their dainty front feet and who would have thought that they have thumbs on their hind feet?

Opossum at night - thank you Erin

Erin, from Muncie, Indiana writes:  " Poor dear slowly turned its head to me and gave me this look like, "How many times you Flashy-Thing'ed me??"  [please tell me someone here has watched "Men in Black"....] " Thank you, Erin.  :)
Erin, from Muncie, Indiana writes: " Poor dear slowly turned its head to me and gave me this look like, "How many times you Flashy-Thing'ed me??" [please tell me someone here has watched "Men in Black"....] " Thank you, Erin. :) | Source

Why are people so negative about Opossums?

It has been my experience time and time again that humans seem to have an intense dislike of these animals. It may be their appearance, with their rows of teeth and rodent-like tail, but it is also because the animal bares its teeth and hisses to deter a predator. So many folk don't know exactly what an opossum is. Just the other day, I was chatting with a woman who imitated the hiss with a very snarling face and was saying how awful the creature was. I told her that this is a mammal and America's only marsupial and that it is in fact beneficial in the garden. She was extremely surprised to hear all that. I hope I helped to change her mindset about Opossums and that you, dear Reader, will help me spread the word! :)


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