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Possum or opossum?

by jmaloni
Sat, May 25th 2013 07:00 am

by Mark Daul

Outdoors in Niagara

When famous country singer George Jones passed away recently at the age of 81, TV and radio broadcasters went with the tag name Jones earned during his career, "no show Jones," because in his younger years he had an alcohol problem and didn't show up for some of his shows. The other tag name he earned was "The Possum," which was supposedly an inside joke about his looks, or facial features. I could never see that, but there it was.

Possum or opossum, whichever you want to use is your choice. I am not a "grammarist" by any means, so let's stick with possum.

A possum can be regarded as being kind of ugly but at the same time cute, even with their long pointy nose, bald ears and long scaly tail. Some of you older folks should remember the comic strip "Pogo," a very popular comic strip featuring all animals as its characters, and Pogo was the center of it all. Pogo ran in newspapers from the late 1940s up until the very early 1990s. A loveable character he was.

But all possums are not as loveable like Pogo was. Adult possums don't hang in trees by their tails like you think, only the real young do. "Playing dead like a possum" is not folklore. They really do when frightened by a predator, and predators generally won't eat something they didn't kill. Possum are "marsupials," meaning an animal that carries their young in a front pouch much like kangaroos do.

One day I was walking around my neighbors' house that was vacant at the time, and I was also checking the shoreline erosion down near his shed. I started walking back up a slight incline along the side of the shed, and all of a sudden I heard this growling and hissing. I thought, what the heck is that. I turned and looked, and here was a possum, mad as hell at me, and running in a sideways fashion after me all the while growling and showing me his sharp pointed teeth, all 50 of them, like a feral cat. The picture you see is what this guy chasing me looked like.

I did what anyone else would do, I ran like the dickens up the incline toward my own yard, and in one jump, I hit the seat of my picnic table, and the other foot got me on top of it. Thinking to myself this animal is nuts! When I got on top of the table I looked down and this little guy was still running like he was the one being chased. He ran right by me, straight to under my shed. While normally slow, I couldn't believe this little creature could be so fast and so brave, and I was so frightened. I sat on the table watching for him to come out from under the shed, and he never did.

The thought went through my head on what if it dies under there and the stink is so bad I can't go into my shed. It didn't happen anyway. I got to thinking that this possum might have rabies or something. Later I was told rabies is highly unlikely in possums, plus they are known to seldom bite. Possums are normally nocturnal. Actually they are for the most part, a harmless animal that roams the countryside and backyards, always looking for their next dinner spread. Mostly a possum's home is in trees, and you never want one under your house or porch if you have a crawl space. They will tear up anything under there, like wiring, insulation, etc. They eat a variety of foods like grubs, chicken eggs, snails, and even human garbage, so keep your garbage lid on.

Some people make pets out of them, why I'm not sure, but I would bet that is illegal. (And silly.)

In some southern states, possum is table fare for some families in stews, sauces, and creamed etc. The label on the can you see pictured says, "Creamed Possum, with Sweet Potatoes, Garnished in Coon Fat Gravy." Several years ago a friend of mine took a fishing trip to Florida and brought back a can of canned possum meat for me. I didn't believe what it was because I never heard of it before. But I guess it was what it was; I never opened it, and if I look hard enough it's still hanging around someplace if it didn't ferment and blow up by now.

Believe it or not, all across New York state there is actually a hunting season for them that runs from October to February. There is no bag limit, and I know of no one around here that is a possum hunter. They are hunted for their fine fur, food, and sport.

About the size of a cat, these critters are not afraid of anything, not even cars. As slow as they are, they'll wander right out in front of your car, daring you to swerve, and you won't even know it until you feel the thump with your front tire, quickly followed by a thump of the rear tire. The next morning the turkey buzzards will be right there to clean up the mess. Talking about turkey vultures, you won't see their majestic flights unless you look up to the sky.

Remember, "A good day fishing is better than a bad day at work," Take that neighborhood kid fishing if you don't have any of your own, and do not forget the elderly, they would love to go too. Be sure to visit http://www.OutdoorsNiagara.com for the latest in fishing information, and be sure to check the Lake Ontario webcam while you are there. It will give you live lake conditions for sailing, boating, or fishing real time. Comments, suggestions email me at [email protected].

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