Possums do not get enough love.
Petey the Possum (of Raven Ridge Rehab) reminded me of this last night.
Tiny possums (the Virginia Opossum) remind us of something from the Muppet Show, or perhaps Pixar’s interpretation of a hamstergerbilmouse.
Big possums we mostly see flattened alongside the road because they are scavengers looking for roadkill and often end up as such themselves. Also they have a top speed of about 4mph…
Possums have existed since the age of the dinosaurs (which means they were awesome enough to survive that extinction). They live in only a few places in the world: Australia, South America… and New Zealand, because someone thought it was a good idea to import them there.
Someone also thought it was a good idea to import starlings to North America…
The Virginia opossum has a unique look and lives in most of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains and on the West Coast. It is also found in Mexico, Central America and in British Columbia, Canada.
Many people’s reaction to its unique look is “HOLYCRAP LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THAT RAT!!!” (It’s the size of a large cat).
It is not any sort of rodent at all, it is not even a placental mammal. It is a marsupial, a primitive mammal with an unspecialized body shape which allowed it to survive that giant meteor that wiped out the dinos, several ice ages, random human conflicts, the fur trade, the invention of the automobile, and sprawling suburbia.
While some would make a point that “possum” is all those other ones on other continents and “opossum” is the Virginia opossum” of North America, the word came from a Native Algonquian word…
The word comes from Algonquian wapathemwa meaning “white animal”. Colloquially, the Virginia opossum is frequently called simply “possum“. The name opossum is applied more generally to any of the other marsupials of the families Didelphidae and Caenolestidae.
Possums are the sanitation workers of the wild, cleaning up dead stuff… they are omnivores (with 50 unspecialized teeth which they will show you in an attempt to tell you to bug off) who can hoover up amazing amounts of ticks and other nasties… they rarely carry rabies (body temp too low) and have the insanely cool superpower of immunity to venomous snakes… like some primates, they have prehensile tails… and opposable thumbs… on all four feet. Their dark eyes are because the pupils are huge, adapted for night vision.
They also have soft silver fur and pink petal ears, and many have black and pink “hands” that look like they’re wearing fingerless gloves.
William “Captain Kirk” Shatner voiced a possum in the animated movie “Over the Hedge”… he was hilarious.
So next time one waddles across your path, step back and smile, knowing it’s on cleanup patrol and is a really important part of the world you live in.