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The Native American Story Behind Opossum's Pouch and Tail

Updated on February 15, 2012
Hungry Opossum in a Crabapple Tree
Hungry Opossum in a Crabapple Tree | Source

Whether you'd rather stick with the scientific history of an opossum, or you're a fan of the explainations offered by the Native Americans for it's qualities, there's no denying it's an interesting creature.

What's that? You're not familiar with the Native American opossum folktales? Then you'd better have a gander at the stories below:

Cute Baby Opossum
Cute Baby Opossum | Source

Opossum's Pouch

Opossum and her babies were playing in the middle of a forest clearing one day, when a shadow fell over them. It was Bat. Opossum was about to greet Bat, but suddenly he swooped down and grabbed her babies in his claws, which were small but strong.

Opossum called out in surprise, and begged Bat to bring her babies back to her. The mischievous fellow, who was known for his cruel sense of humour, ignored the worried mother, and set the baby opossums down in a deep hollow in a near-by cliff face.

At a loss for anything else to do, Opossum began pacing around in circles and shouting at the top of her voice, hoping that a passing animal would stop and help her.

"I could go and fetch Crow or Wise Owl," she thought, "but I don't want to leave my babies alone out here."

Wolf's sensitive ears picked up Opossum's yells for help, and he immediately came racing through the forest to see what was wrong.

"Bat has taken my babies from me, and he won't give them back," she sobbed.

"Show me where he's taken them, and I'll get them back," Wolf said, doing his best to calm his friend.

Opossum took Wolf to the hollow in the rock and he entered with confidence, but after a while, he ran back out, muttering and cursing under his breath.

"I'm very sorry, Opossum, but I can't get your babies back."

So Opossum began circling and crying again, waiting for another forest creature to happen upon her. Eventually Rabbit, who had been out on his daily run through the undergrowth, heard her wails and came nearer to investigate. Opossum told Rabbit about her problem.

"Don't worry," Rabbit said, "I'll get those little opossums back for you. I can trick him into letting them go!"

Opossum felt hopeful as Rabbit hopped into the cave, as he was a famously clever trickster. However, just a few moments later, Rabbit came racing out of the hollow, cursing Bat.

"Sorry, Opossum. There's no way I'll be able to get your babies back," he said.

Opossum began to keen and pace once more, and almost immediately, was approached by Highland-Terrapin.

"Excuse me, but I couldn't help but hear about your problem, M'am," he said to her, "and I think I can help you."

Without waiting for Opossum to reply, he marched into the opening in the cliff face. Bat tried the same sneaky trick he'd used on Wolf and Rabbit, and threw hot ashes at Highland-Terrapin. They burned his plodding, flat feet, but he kept trudging slowly towards the babies. When he reached the little opossums he picked them up and comforted them, then marched straight back out of the cave, ignoring Bat's angry cries. Bat darted at them a few times, but each time he bounced off of Highland-Terrapin's tough shell. He gave up eventually, and flew away.

Brave Highland-Terrapin cut a hole in the happy opossum mama's belly and gently placed her babies in it.

"Remember to keep your babies in here until they've stopped nursing, alright? This way, they will be safe," he told her. Ever since, mother opossums have had pouches in which to carry their babies.

Mama Opossum and her Baby
Mama Opossum and her Baby | Source

Opossum's Tail

Raccoon | Source
Opossum, Complete with Bare Tail
Opossum, Complete with Bare Tail | Source

Opossum was walking along with her babies tucked safely in her pouch, when she saw her good friend, Raccoon. She had always admired Raccoon's beautiful ringed tail, and so she asked him how he'd gotten such pretty patterns on it.

Raccoon grinned, obviously quite pleased with himself, and said, "Well, I got some pieces of bark and wrapped them around my tail here, here, and here," he pointed. "Then I stuck my tail into a fire and the patches that had been covered in bark remained white, while the places that had been left exposed burned and singed, you see?"

Opossum thought this was a very clever idea, and wandered off to find her own sections of bark. When she'd found enough, she wrapped them around her own currently very plain tail and then she built a large bonfire, into which she stuck her tail.

At first, everything seemed to be going well, but Opossum became impatient. She piled more wood onto the fire. Only a few seconds after this, she leapt away in pain - her tail had been left for so long in such a large fire, that all of the fur had burned off. She plunged her poor scorched tail into a near-by stream, and told herself not to worry - she could try again as soon as her tail fur grew back.

This was not to be. Opossum waited and waited, but not a single hair grew on her now bare tail. Every opossum that has come after that foolish, vain one has had a tail as bare as can be.


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