A Visitor from 65 Thousand Years Ago…

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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.

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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…

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… has retained the same trademark characteristics that Captain John Smith used to describe him upon first sight in the wilds of 1600’s America..

 

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and looks exactly like his ancestors pal-ing around with the big guys in the age of the dinosaurs…

Illustration courtesy of Science Daily
Illustration courtesy of Science Daily

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.

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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…

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before heading off and making their own babies at the age of six months or so.

Baby opposums!

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!

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...

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Roy Chapman Andrews: The Real-Life Indiana Jones

As a testament to Harrison Ford’s acting abilities, we are all familiar with the face of Indiana Jones…

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. Photo via pinterest.
Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. Photo via pinterest.

He captivated audiences in four Indiana Jones movies: Raiders of the Lost Ark – 1981, Indiana Jones and Temple of Doom – 1984, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – 1989, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull  – 2008 and now there are rumors that he’ll be starring in a fifth Indiana Jones movie at some point in the near future.  That’s one impressive character career!

But did you know that the real inspiration for Indiana Jones looked like this…

Roy Chapman Andrews (1884-1960)
Roy Chapman Andrews (1884-1960)

Meet Roy Chapman Andrews – a Wisconsin-born naturalist, explorer, taxidermist and all around adventurer. Ms. Jeannie first became familiar with him, when she listed this book in her Etsy shop…

All About Dinosaurs published in 1953 by Roy Chapman Andrews
All About Dinosaurs – published in 1953 –  by Roy Chapman Andrews

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At first glance it looks like a beautifully illustrated children’s book about the rise and fall of dinosaurs – but in actuality, this book is so much more – it’s part memoir, part textbook, part field guide to Andrew’s firsthand experiences unearthing dinosaurs in Mongolia and the Gobi dessert in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Roy Chapman Andrews. Photo ourtesy of reocities.com
Roy Chapman Andrews. Photo courtesy of reocities.com

Written in 1953, after he had retired as the Director of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, Andrews set about recording his adventures. This book in particular, was geared towards children in hopes of inspiring future generations of scientists. And Andrews had a lot to share with his young audience.

Credited with bringing back the first known fossil dinosaur eggs to the Museum, from an expedition he led in the Gobi Desert, Andrews believed in his natural instincts when few others did.

Andrews and the soon to be famous eggs found in the Gobi Desert in 1931. Photo courtesy of mongoliatravels.com
Andrews and the soon to be famous fossilized eggs found in the Gobi Desert in 1931. Photo courtesy of mongoliatravels.com
Photo courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History.
Here they are on display at the museum. Photo courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History.

In true pioneering style, Andrews led teams of scientists into the uncharted shifting desert sands via automobile and camel in the 1920’s. Industry professionals doubted his abilities, doubted his hypothesis’ and frankly, doubted his mindset.

Mongolia was off the radar. How could anything scientific be uncovered in a sandy landscape that was constantly windswept, arid and blazing in temperature? Plus there were warring tribes, logistical difficulties and governmental red tape to overcome. Now, does that sound like a task for Indiana Jones or what?

Andrews camp-site in the Mongolian desert. Definietly a cinematic site! Photocourtesy of mongoliantravels.com
Andrew’s camp-site in the Mongolian desert. Definietly a cinematic site! Photocourtesy of mongoliantravels.com

Andrews wasn’t intimated by any of these challenges. He was confident in his own abilities and that of his team and was certain that they would find something out there in the sand. And of course, with the dinosaur eggs, later with other fossils, he did. And of course, he returned to the States with fanfare and celebration and new celebrity status.

The accessories of an exotic explorer - a camel, binoculars ando courtesy of mongoliantravels.com a foreign guide! Phot
The accessories of an exotic explorer – a camel, binoculars and a foreign guide! Photo courtesy of mongoliantravels.com

Andrews worked on excavations in the Gobi Desert until 1930 when both political roadblocks and the Great Depression stymied the project. He returned to New York as a larger than life figure where fans waited with baited breath to hear about all of his exotic tales. Four years later he became director of the American Museum of Natural History, which now holds the largest collection of fossil amphibians, reptiles and birds in the world. In 1942, he retired to Carmel, California to set pen to paper and record the first-hand accounts of a lifetime spent studying his passion.

Not a bad lesson to teach children. Believe in yourself and your abilities, set your mind to task and you’ll have nothing standing in your way.

SPECIAL NOTE: While Ms. Jeannie was preparing this blog post, her All About Dinosaurs book sold.  It was purchased as a birthday present for a 10 year old boy named Finley.  Ms. Jeannie hopes you will all join her, dear blog readers, in wishing Finley a most happy birthday. And to Finley – may this year be full of thrilling adventures and daring discoveries:)

“Always there has been an adventure just around the corner–and the world is still full of corners.”– Roy Chapman Andrews