Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Dandelion that Doesn’t Play ‘Possum

opossum at door
by Joan H. Young

About two weeks ago I spotted a small opossum waddling across the snow-covered yard. She (?) headed for a clump of pine trees and I was unable to find her cozy den under the thick branches. “She knows a good hiding place when she finds one,” I thought.

A week later I looked out the front and saw the little furball lumbering across our porch! This time I grabbed the camera in time. But I needn’t have hurried. She found a sheltered spot between the snowblower and a door we seldom use. There she sat, staring at the entry, with a plaintive look. Always a sucker for winsome animals, I immediately named her Dandelion.

Was the door warmer than the surrounding space? Why on earth would a wild ‘possum act this way? The answer is obvious to other suckers for animal antics. She knew that she had a friend who lives here.

Of course, I can’t leave well enough alone. I broke off a hunk of carrot and headed out to make her acquaintance. Opossums don’t really hibernate, but their metabolism slows in the winter so that they aren’t as quick as usual, plus they are normally nocturnal. Since the only way most people ever see them is flat on the road, one could make a case for the species as a whole not being quick enough.

Dandelion opened her mouth and hissed at me, but I ran my fingers along the long, rough gray fur, and she did not flinch. She took the piece of carrot, but didn’t eat it. We chatted a bit about the weather and I left her to enjoy the day. A few hours later she was gone.

Next chapter... about four days later her tracks were all over our cement terrace. They led to a corner under a bench that was draped with a tarp that hadn’t been folded properly. Sure enough, Dandelion was hunkered down in the hidey-hole corner. This time, she stayed a few days, and nibbled some dog food that I left for her. (This is not appropriate long-term food for a ‘possum, but I thought one snack wouldn’t hurt.)

Opossums are the only North American marsupial. The first one I ever saw as a child was a mother, dead in the road of course, with all her babies clinging hopelessly to her tail. It was a sad sight, but I was enchanted by the fantastic information my dad told me about how the mother had carried those babies in a pouch on her tummy, and I even got to see that. Their tiny pink feet and tails fascinated me.

Although they are the butt of many jokes about stupidity, ‘possums are actually quite bright. They score better than dogs on some learning and discrimination tests. They are native to the southern and northeastern United States, although they were unknown this far north until about 1900.

I haven’t seen my Dandelion in the last few days, but now I’m hoping that she’ll survive long enough to smell the yellow dandelions of spring.

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Ratty said...

Great post. This is the kind of story I like. Hopefully Dandelion is in a nice warm place.

Sharkbytes (TM) said...

Thanks, Ratty. I haven't seen her since then. I'm hoping she's holed up in a den under the pines.

Lin said...

It's good to know that there is someone who likes oppossum like me! I leave out our veggie scraps for ours and I delight to see them disappear. Mine comes to our pond for a drink of water all year round, and I enjoy catching a peek at her once in awhile. I can't believe you actually touched yours!

Sharkbytes (TM) said...

Hi Lin- Well, if she hadn't been cold and groggy, I'm sure I never would have been able to. It was pretty cool anyway. The only other time I've been that close to a live one was a male who had been caught in a live trap and I had to move him and let him go (he was not the object of the trapping project). He was MAD and smelly. He would have been more than happy to bite anyone. Glad to know another 'possum lover!

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