What’s wrong with possum poop?

Dear Journal,

What a terrible afternoon!

The day started out nice enough. Mama M. went to work as usual. But what was not usual was that Mama L. went for a run! She came back all sweaty and complained how old and stiff she is. I am not so sure about this exercise regime she has decided to be on. Isn’t it supposed to be fun?

Anywho, after she came back from lunch with Auntie Jodi, whom she hadn’t seen in a really long time, she was in a really good mood so she took us for a really long walk. (Although I have a sneaky feeling it might be related to her exercise regime again.) It was a hot day, so we just hung out and watched a little TV after we got back.

Then Mama L. decided to give us some free time in the back yard while she prepared dinner. I love free time! That’s when Little Sis and I get to run around unsupervised and explore our yard! Sometimes I just want to nap in the sunshine, but today was different! In one corner of the yard, underneath our orange tree, was the most delectable pile of poop ever! Naturally I rolled in it; the scent suited me perfectly!

I ran in the house to show Mama, and she leaned over to give me a kiss on the head, and that what was when she yelled “OH MY GOD MADELEINE YOU SMELL LIKE SHIT!” (Actually, what I heard was “blah blah blah Madeleine blah blah blah Shit.”) Madeleine and Shit in the same sentence is never a good thing with Mama L. She scrunched up her nose and squinted her eyes and made a horrible face. And then she pushed me as far away as possible, mumbling something about possum poop. Damn her scientific nose!

You’d think I had just shot the president or something.

Now I smell like lavender and mint. Big whoop. So much for being an individual in this household. Too bad Auntie Joompur is out of the country at the moment. I am sure Mama L. violated a couple of amendments in there, and I have no recourse but to endure.

Editor’s Notes on recent Possum Posting

Due to several protests over our recent icky opossum posting, the Editor has decided to issue the following clarifications. Specifically, we wish to address the concerns of a friend who shall remained nameless. Our friend, who shall remained nameless, had apparently laid down some new sod in her back yard. She then had to do battle with not one, but SEVEN, opossums who had the misfortune of wanting some fresh grub, i.e., snails and slugs, and had peeled back the sod to get to the grub underneath. To her credit, our friend, who shall remained nameless, relocated these seven unfortunate possums seven different times to seven different locations far far away from her sod.

While we are not advocating adopting an opossum as a household pet (see #1 below), trapping and relocating them is really not very necessary.

1) Opossums are wild animals. Wild animals belong out in the wild. Opossums are also solitary animals. Cuddling is not a top priority for them. There have been many accounts of people rescuing and adopting them as household pets. However, please note that they are not dogs or cats, and generally do not make good “pets”. They are also nocturnal, and unless you keep vampirish hours, it is unlikely that you will be awake enough to enjoy their presence.

2) An opossum is a gardener’s best friend. Possums’ favorite delicacies are snails and slugs, which could easily devour all your vegetables in one night. They also eat insects, cockroaches!!!!, roof rats, and even snakes. They will also clear out carrion and any over-ripe fruit that you haven’t gotten to yet.

3) When trapped or threatened, they may emit a foul-smelling odor. This is part of their defense mechanism. This may or may not accompany the “playing possum” to get you to leave it alone. The foul-smelling odor is mild compared to, say, a skunk. Most people think skunks are cute. This is probably due to the Pepé Le Pew cartoon series in which a French skunk foolishly chased after a poor terrified house cat. Several opossum cartoon characters (Pogo, Banjo, Pistol Packin’) had been in circulation, however, none had ever made it “big” to stardom as Pepé the skunk.

4) Opossums have poor hearing and eyesight, and rely mostly on their keen sense of smell. As most other mammals, they are also lazy. They would much prefer a bowl of kitty krunchies to having to dig for slugs. (Actually, they don’t really dig.) If you prefer that they leave your garden alone, a small bowl of cat/dog food placed near your preferred exit would attract them and send them on their way after feasting.

5) They are not territorial, but they do have a territory. If you decide to vacate opossums elsewhere, keep in mind that other predators will move in. These include raccoons, skunks, and rats…

The National Opossum Society has a great website that has more information on these fascinating animals. The Opossum Society of the United States is also a great website. Note that the “Virginia” opossum isn’t really about possums in Virginia…that’s just what the American opossum is called.

Dear Miss Shirley Shirley,

On our morning walk today, Little Gingersnap! and I saw an opossum for the first time! Of course, Ginger wanted to come right up to it and say hello. I was a little more skeptical because it was the biggest rat I have ever seen in my life — not that I have actually seen a rat before — but it was still the biggest rodent ever!

Well, that was when Mama L. said that possums are not really rodents. They are one of the most misaligned and misunderstood animals since most people think of them as ugly and nasty pests. So I did a bit of research, and I am going to tell you a bit about these interesting creatures now. Mama L. said you enjoy useless trivia almost as much as she does, and I need a new Number One Fan since mine has been MIA for sometime. You don’t have to do much as a Number One Fan; love and adoration is all I ask, and an occasional note will suffice.

<Photo from National Geographic Society>

So, here are a few opossum factoids. For (a lot) more information, this link will take you to Mama’s favorite Wikipedia.

1. Contrary to popular thought, an opossum (or, possum) is a marsupial, not a rodent, although both orders belong to the class mammal. It is the only marsupial in North America. A typical opossum is the size of a cat with grey to black fur, black eyes, pink pointed nose, feet and tail, and black ears.

2. The female carries and nurses her young in her marsupium (pouch) until they are about 2 to 3 months old; then they are carried on her back another 1 to 2 months whenever they are away from the den. Eventually they become too heavy to hang on during these trips and one by one fall off. By the time this happens, the young opossum is fully weaned and able to forage for himself.

3. Usage of the name was first published in 1610. The word means “white dog” or “white beast/animal”.

4. Opossums show partial or total immunity to the venom of rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, and other pit vipers.They are immune to most contagious and viral diseases.

5. Opossums are about eight times less likely to carry rabies than wild dogs, and only about one in eight hundred opossums are infected with this virus. This is due to their very robust and efficient immune system and lower body temperature. There is far less of a risk of infection from opossums than from house pets.

6. Opossums may hiss or growl and show their 50 sharp teeth (more than any other North American mammals) when frightened, but, in reality, they are gentle and placid. They prefer to avoid all confrontations and wish to be left alone. When they are frightened and unable to flee, they may fall into an involuntary shock-like state “playing ‘possum”, which is similar to fainting. They can remain “dead” from 1 minute to 6 hours, and can be poked, prodded, and carried away without any reaction.

7. They are omnivorous. Their diet includes insects, snails, rodents, berries, over-ripe fruit, grasses, leaves, and carrion; occasionally they will eat snakes, ground eggs, corn or other vegetables.

8. They are very adaptable and are able to live wherever water, food, and shelter exist. At home in trees, possums use their prehensile tails to help stabilize position when climbing. It does not, however, hang by its tail. They are also very good swimmers!

9. They are one of the shortest lived mammals for their size — typically 2 to 4 years. They are killed by many predators: humans (and cars), dogs, cats, owls, and larger wildlife.

10. Many people consider the opossum a filthy animal, in part because of his mousy gray coat but also because he’s often seen foraging through trash cans and is known to eat carrion. In truth, however, the opossum is one of the cleanest animals around. They groom and bathe themselves meticulously, as scrupulously as the most finicky house cat, and have even been observed to stop in the midst of eating to clean themselves several times before finishing. The only thing he’s missing is a dinner napkin!