By Mark Fike
As a child I recall the first possum I saw. The dogs had run it off the porch where it was trying to get to the cat food and the rat faced creature bared its fangs on its horrendous face and then rolled over, curled up a bit and just laid there as the dogs darted in and grabbed and let go of it. When I got too close the dogs felt the need to protect me and one of them grabbed and shook it violently while the possum came back to life for a very short time.
I never forgot that lesson about things not being as they seemed. Most folks know that possums play dead when threatened if they can. They are about the size of a house cat and can breed two to three times a year starting in February and ending before it gets cold in the fall.
The most common possum found in North America is the Virginia Opossum which is east of the Rocky Mountains but they are expanding their range. These animals are North America’s only marsupial. The babies live in momma’s pouch for the first month or two before they start riding on mom’s back and learning about the outside world.
When born they are not much bigger than your thumb. They tend to get a negative rap because they are omnivores and will eat whatever they can find to include road kill, carrion, garbage, insects, small animals, fruit and much to a farmer’s agony, poultry.
They love to get in a chicken pen and kill the chickens and most of the time simply eat the guts out of a chicken and then kill another and do the same thing. I have lost count of how many I have shot upon hearing a racket out back in the chicken house. After rushing out armed with a rifle or shotgun I have dispatched many of these rat like animals with naked ears and hairless tails.
They are hardy animals once they make it to adulthood and they climb amazingly well. I have seen them in fruit trees on moonlit nights, hanging by their tails from branches and grabbing fruit. They particularly love persimmons which ripen in September and October. Once I saw a half dozen such critters raiding a single tree!
These animals nest in holes in trees, stumps, small burrows or even small caves. Even though they are hardy as adults, their young have to struggle to survive. Many of the babies die. As most can recall, they get hit often on the roads while attempting to eat roadkill which causes them to become the same.
There once was a time that their fur would bring a few dollars and some people trapped them since they are a pest anyway. Others, particularly years ago in the south, ate them as they were easy to come by and if prepared correctly did not taste half bad.
They do tend to be a bit oily and strong tasting if you don’t soak them. Like any animal, the better specimen to try to eat would be one that is young, barely an adult.
Because these animals are opportunistic feeders and live everywhere, they can rapidly become regular garbage raiders, cat or dog food raiders or animal feed consumers. Keep your food locked up and if you find one regularly visiting and making a mess or stealing food, you probably need to get a box trap and catch it or simply dispatch it if that is legal where you live.
They seem to have a great memory where their last easy meal came from. In most areas it is illegal to move live wild game so that is not advisable. Besides, the sharp teeth on these rascals could necessitate a trip to the ER and possibly cause you to need to get rabies preventative shots.
In a weird way, their fur is beautiful if you find a young and clean possum. Don’t let their “dead ploy” fool you though. They will wake up fast if you grab them.