Last year over on instagram Ms. Jeannie posted some pictures of some tremendously tall titan-esque palm trees and noted how their origins dated all the way back to Mesopotamian times. A few days ago another curious character popped up from that same timeline in history. But this guy was neither tall nor stately. He was rather small and round.
How strangely exciting! Just like the age old tropical trees this opossum (of the Virginia variety) hasn’t changed at all in sixty five thousand years. He looks exactly the same as when John James Audubon painted him in the 1800’s…
… has retained the same trademark characteristics that Captain John Smith used to describe him upon first sight in the wilds of 1600’s America..
and looks exactly like his ancestors pal-ing around with the big guys in the age of the dinosaurs…
All this makes our modern day visitor quite a marvelous wonder. Preferring to scurry about in the safety of night, opposums are predominately nocturnal, but every once in a while you’ll catch one out and about in the daylight like this guy saying a happy good morning to Ms. Jeannie at 9:00am.
As the only North American marsupial opossums have barreled through these centuries at an incredible pace. With a lifespan of only two years they were on the fast-track from the beginning.
Born the size of a grain of rice in a litter usually made up of 9-15 siblings they grow in their mom’s pouch for three months until they are big enough to hang out (literally!) on her body…
before heading off and making their own babies at the age of six months or so.
Pregnant for only 13 days opossums usually have two liters a year which makes them great multipliers in both number of babies and speed of pregnancy. But by the age of two they have completed their duties and off they go to more heavenly pastures.
Researchers have cited their environmental adaptability in regards to being able to survive for all this time. They eat almost anything, but their greatest love in modern life is cat food. When that’s not available they eat a lot of other delights too like snakes and bugs and bird eggs and rotting vegetation and things run over in the road. Basically they look at life like a buffet, everything is available for the taking and it all looks appetizing. Yay for yum!
Another attribute that favors the opossum is their funny little knack of playing dead when they are scared – a chemical defense reaction that their brains have no control over and lucky for them leaves predators completely perplexed and un-enchanted. A lot of people think that opossums are clever and play dead on purpose but this is a myth. Their bodies just react like that – not from any mental dexterity efforts but just pure chemical reactions from being scared.
Not dead – just pretending!
While they are not known among the smart-set of the animal kingdom, they should win awards for being members of the speed-set. There is no time to think up ways to outsmart a predator while being chased around the bushes. They’ve got to get busy having those babies and Hoover-ing up the backyard from all those fallen fruits and nuts and seeds and things. As one of nature’s great pacifists they see the inherent value in just falling over, pretending to be dead and waiting for the storm to pass. Which actually seems pretty smart in the long run, even if they didn’t technically think it up themselves.
Ms. Jeannie was hoping that her opposum was going to stick around for a few days and show off a wife and a family of babies, but she hasn’t seen him since the initial photos. Perhaps he was just passing through, on his way to a cat food diner:)
But his appearence does bring up an interesting question for you dear readers… do you see opossums in your neck of the woods? Traditionally they are most associated with the American South, and Australia has their own variety, but due to global warming they have migrated to the northern U.S. in some areas. It would be fun to figure out where exactly, so if you leave a comment be sure to include your state (or country!) so we can forge a peaceable possum trail.
In the meantime if you’d like to read up some more on the dinosaurs, check out this link here...