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Monday, February 22, 2010

Visiting Opossum

Winter has become tedious for more than me, a mere human.  I have a warm house, plenty of food in my cupboards and even a computer to link me with the world.  I think I have it made.  You would think that all this would put me high on the chain of evolution.  Humans must be really something to be so successful.
Then I remember the opossum.  Have you ever looked closely at an opossum? Their looks are not so endearing as other wild creatures.  Baby raccoons are adorable.  Even tadpoles are cute.  But opossums? I've heard people use terms like, "ugghh" or "gross" or even "hideous." I will admit that I don't think they are a beautiful animal, but they are interesting. That rat-like tail attached to a body whose fur defines, "a bad hair day" and have you seen those teeth? Those teeth are a bit scary. But we seldom see their teeth.  Usually we see an animal that carries an eternal look of worry with its tiny pale, round, close-set eyes.  They are usually scurrying off to somewhere else.
This time of year the opossum has a reason to worry.  Snow has covered the ground making it hard for the animal to find food.  They must be very hungry now.  But one thing you should know about an opossum is that they are determined.  We once followed for 1/4 mile an opossum walking in a tire track with high snow banks on each side.  The opossum scurried along until finally reaching an approved spot to get out of the track. 
In Friday's  blog entry I told you about the opossum that had hidden under our wood pile by the front door.  Well later on Friday, it was out in my yard scrounging for stray sunflower seeds.  The birds had not left many.  I walked toward the pitiful looking animal.  It was hunched up and did not look well. I was a bit concerned that it didn't seem to be very afraid of me.  It did move away, but not very far, hiding behind a small tree in the yard.  My thought was that it was either very very hungry or was rabid.  I decided to check out the hunger theory first and put some sunflower seeds right in front of it then backed away.  The opossum started eating immediately and continued eating sunflower seeds for the next hour and a half.
Later, just before dark, I took some food out to the compost pile and there was my opossum checking out the garbage.  This time it ran away quickly.  It probably was just hungry, not rabid.  As soon as I went back to the house, the opossum was back eating my offering off old garlic potatos.
The Opossum has been around our world for millions of years.  Scientists have found opossum-like marsupials remains 65 million years old from Cretaceous-Paleogene period which was about when the dinosaurs became extinct.
Marsupials became extinct in North America about 20 million years ago, but started migrating back from South America with the Isthmus of Panama connected North and South America aboutf 3 million years ago.  One of these was our own Virginia opossum.
Maybe I shouldn't worry about the opossum finding food but that is part of what makes me human.  No, the opossum isn't very pretty, but looks aren't everything and, besides have you ever seen their feet?  Now those are cute feet!

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