Popular descriptive words and phrases come and go with generations. When I was a kid they were fairly mundane, like neat, cool or far-out. Evidently a recently concocted phrase is “awesome possum!” I’m always looking and listening for experiences or utterances that might make for a good column, and what outdoor writer worth his or her deer jerky could resist doing something with the phrase “awesome possum.” After watching some British animal rescue show the other night where a pair of baby possums were “rescued” after their mother was hit by a car, Joyce turned to me and blurted out “I want a pet possum.” Put this all together and I would probably be struck dead in my chair if I didn’t follow up with a column on our friend the Virginia Opossum.
There is probably no other critter that garners as much disdain as the lowly Virginia Opossum. They have their place in nature like every other member of God’s creation, but much like the turkey vulture, it’s often tough to see. One of the nicknames given the late country singer George Jones was “the possum,” and he did kinda’ look like one. Trappers hate to find possums in their traps; rather than killing them, my brother and I used to grab the possums by their tale and fling them as far as we could, or simply hold them at arm’s length and punt them over the nearest fence. I guess we figured that, like a boy named Sue, if they had survived to that point, they deserved to live another day. Surprisingly, possum fur is very soft. Visitors at the Kansas Fur Harvesters booth at the Kansas State Fair usually know which pelt came from the Opossum, but most are also surprised how soft and attractive it is.
The Virginia Opossum is North America’s only marsupial, meaning that like kangaroos, they raise and carry their young in a “marsupian” or pouch. Baby possums exit their mothers pouch at two to three months old, then ride around on her back for another couple months. Possums are generally placid and usually just hiss and show you a mouth full of pointed little teeth. They are not good at defending themselves, and if threatened can fall into a sort of involuntary shock-like state, known as “playing possum.” Just for the record, thinking back on all the encounters I’ve had with possums, I have never witnessed this.
Possums are omnivorous, meaning they will eat almost anything from insects, rodents and fruit, to carrion, and seem especially fond of dog food left in Rovers bowl overnight. A fact making the rounds lately touts the possums help with slowing the spread of Lyme disease by consuming large numbers of ticks, research suggesting as many as 5000 per year. They can adapt to living nearly anywhere they find food, water and shelter, and are perfectly at home in trees. Their bare, boney prehensile tail helps them climb, but they cannot hang from their tail as some traditional stories and drawings suggest.
Going through life as a possum would be a truly humbling experience, maybe an experience we should all have to endure sometime for an hour or so just to put things in perspective…(alright, that made a whole lot more sense when it was just a thought rattling around in my head.) Anyway love em’ or hate em’, possums are survivors, so here’s hoping you have an “awesome possum” day, and Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors.
Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected]