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Saturday Night Opossum Blogging

[ 120 ] January 25, 2014 |

I used to think opossums were kind of nasty. It’s not their fault, they are just kind of ugly. Then I was walking on the campus of the University of Texas at night. I was walking on a little pedestrian bridge over a creek and there were a couple in the creek below. I watched them for like 5 minutes and realized how cool they actually are. Totally changed my perspective on them.

And of course, edible.


Comments (120)

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  1. Josh says:

    Speaking of Possum and Taters, I just heard this episode of 99% Invisible on the radio yesterday. Now I kinda want a Billy Possum.

  2. Barry Freed says:

    And of course, edible.

    Yeah, um…what kind of condiments do you recommend Professor Loomis?

  3. DrDick says:

    The edible part is debatable. I have tried it before.

    • ChrisTS says:

      Should we ask?

    • N__B says:

      Did you hold the debate with the possum before or after you eviscerated it?

      • DrDick says:

        Definitely after. Nasty tasting, greasy meat.

        • aimai says:

          We had a family of possums living in our backyard years ago–when I had a newborn/toddler and I wanted to be able to take her out back and let her play in the grass. They transited across our lawn nightly, pooping as they went. Enormous, horrible, pieces of shit were everywhere. And in addition? they were extraordinarily ugly. I was surprised by this because I guess I’d thought possums would be kind of cute and furry. But they are quite hairless and more ratlike than rats, even. No one is going to tell me that a possum is any kind of charismatic megafauna, because they just aren’t.

          • DrDick says:

            I certainly agree that they are far from charismatic and possum poop is some pretty disgusting stuff. On the other hand, I have no particular dislike for them, except as dinner. As wild animals go, they are fairly clean and not terribly vicious or aggressive. It is always problematic having any wild animals in the yard when you have small children.

            Many years ago, when I lived in Chicago, I had a land lady who was telling me about seeing the largest rat in the world by the basement door. After a few questions, I realized it was a possum, but she had never seen one before, being a city girl all her life.

  4. Matt says:

    In New Zealand they add possum fur to lots of fancy socks, hats, scarfs, etc. Supposedly it makes them softer and stronger.

    • beaker says:

      That’s brushtail possum, a different marsupial family. Phalangeridae. They were introduced to NZ from Australia in the 1800s. As such things usually go, big mistake.

      • ChrisTS says:

        I love this blog. I mean, really, who knew?

      • Andy Wilton says:

        What I find interesting about this is the way the same animal is adorable in Australia and verminous in New Zealand. It does highlight the weird kind of zoological nationalism you find in both countries: animals are lovable or not because of their origins rather than their natures. (I’m trying to think of anything comparable I’ve come across elsewhere: red vs grey squirrels in the UK, perhaps? But then red squirrels are undeniably cuter, so it’s hardly a clear-cut case.)

        • SV says:

          They are pests in NZ, ecologically speaking, with disastrous impacts on native wildlife. It’s unsurprising that they would be less, ah, pesty, in their native country.

          • Andy Wilton says:

            But, do you see what you did there? That “disastrous impacts on native wildlife”? Is the native wildlife better because it’s ecologically stable, or is it better because it’s native? I suspect the latter. I mean, the anti-possum attitude seems to be really mainstream in NZ, way more so than (for example) trying to reduce overfishing by recreational anglers. Coming to it from the outside, I find it looks an awful lot like nationalism.

    • AGM says:

      Australian possums are adorable. Opossums are horrifying abominations.

  5. Karen says:

    We once lived in a house on a greenbelt here in Austin. A family of possums moved into our garage and bullied our cats, stealing their food, and generally making nuisances of themselves. The city wouldn’t trap them and we couldn’t because some reason that never made sense. We finally moved. We have two terriers that have killed a couple of possums that got into our back yard. I find this very endearing in dogs.

    • jharp says:

      “I find this very endearing in dogs.”

      Me too. Had a dog that did fantastic work on the woodchucks.

      I moved and now squirrels are my problem and a dog doesn’t work on squirrels. I live in a wooded subdivision and with a pellet gun shot 64 squirrels in one year. It took them less than one year to repopulate after my pellet gun broke.

      • ChrisTS says:

        Absent doggies, deer and geese have overtaken our property.

        Yes, I can spray coyote urine essence and pepper spray all over my gardens, but I would really prefer a dog.

        It’s a tough choice: wait for the spousal unit to die, or kill him.

  6. Barry Freed says:

    They’re the only native American marsupial. What’s not to love?

    • Shakezula says:

      The fact that they’re hideous freaks of nature that look like they were cobbled together from bits that were scraped off the workshop floor down to the teeth that really look like they were stolen from a predator of some sort.

      And they climb up on your fence and stare at you while you’re trying to have a quiet ciggy before bed. Unless they start to waddle up on the back porch where you’re having said cig, causing you to flee emitting high pitched and undignified noises.

      Also, they get in the trap you’ve set out for the damn groundhogs and they smell AWFUL and sit there and fucking hiss at you when you try to release them from the trap. Dumb bastards.

      The only thing I like about them is they probably contributed to me quitting cigarettes, but that’s further testament to their nastiness.

  7. Karen says:

    Best possum story: A friend of mine’s husband had a really terrible case of the ‘flu, with a fever something north of 104. That night there was a flash flood-producing severe thunderstorm. He was, actually delirious. He was also 6’5″ tall and 275 pounds, while she was a little over 5 ‘ and about 140. She had tried to make him go the to ER, but he refused, in a sorta lucid manner, so she fell asleep. A short time later she woke up, noticed he was out of bed and heard a terrifying screech coming from their living room. Thinking all sorts of horrors produced by the collision of her husband in a fever delirium and a glass coffee table, she ran out of the bedroom to see hubby standing naked in the middle of the living room, with the glass doors open and the water pouring in, holding a possum by the tail in each hand and twirling them. He was wearing a beatific grin and announced “See What I can Do!!!”

  8. DocAmazing says:

    Some days I ride to work through Golden Gate Park, and in the early morning, little chubby possums stagger lazily across Chain of Lakes Drive, forcing me to corkscrew around them.

    I love possums.

    Hate skunks, though.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      I opened my front door in very urban Providence one evening about 2 years ago. And right on the porch was a skunk. That was unexpected to say the least. Luckily the cat wasn’t down there with me. I guess they are pretty common in town. I’ve seen 2.

      • jharp says:

        I don’t think you want the skunks around. They can be a problem.

        • mch says:

          Skunks in New England got hit hard by rabies (when was that? 10, 15 years ago now? longer?), and since then there are far fewer than the multitudes that used to be just part of life here. Good sign if they’re making a comeback. Just secure your garbage (which you need to do anyway, against raccoons — also hard hit by rabies — dogs, bears, whatever) and, if your dog gets to run free, be prepared for the occasional misery.

          Possums must have been around here forever, but I’ve only spotted them recently in my New England back yard. (They are shy animals, after all.) Even when big and plump, they appear to be hairless and are the grossest creatures I have ever seen. Sort of like monstrous slugs (if slugs waddled). Repellant (I think I’d eat slugs and worms first, if forced by starvation), but sort of endearing at the same time

          • efgoldman says:

            We have motion-sensor lights in our back yard (RI North of Providence.) Every once in a while at night when they light up, we see a possum wandering through. They never go after our bird feeders, which are up on poles with squirrel baffles to protect them.
            Never seen a skunk around, but we can sure tell they’re here when one loses an argument with a vehicle or wins one with a dog.
            We’re too far up from the water for raccoons. About 15-20 years ago, in Belmont MA (at the time of the rabies epidemic) a rabid raccoon ran out to the middle of the street in broad daylight, snarling and biting at my pickup. Also in that time, mrs efgoldman had her girl scout troop (including daughter efgoldman) around the campfire at the camp in Waltham; a raccoon came right into the circle of girls, snatched a plastic bag of marshmallows, and casually walked away. Do you know how much screamy noise a dozen 8-10 year old girls can make?

            • Toberdog says:

              About 25 years ago I was on a bike trip in southern Missouri. My buddy and I were hanging at the campfire when we heard a rustling in my tent. We got up to investigate and saw a big raccoon eating from my bag of trail mix. He then casually walked up a nearby tree, from where he just glared at us.

            • Lee Rudolph says:

              That rabies epidemic, by the way, or so I read at the time, spread so intensely because raccoons from all over the area were hitching rides on dumptrucks to and from the Central Landfill in Johnston.

              • efgoldman says:

                …raccoons from all over the area were hitching rides on dumptrucks to and from the Central Landfill in Johnston.

                Well, everyone else in the damned state got a cut of the landfil, why shouldn’t the raccoons?

            • N__B says:

              Did the raccoon say “See what I can do?”

            • dmsilev says:

              Friend of mine had an amusing raccoon story. He was out camping once, and they were woken up in the middle of the night by a huge clattering/crashing noise. Turns out that a raccoon had found the one bit of food that they hadn’t locked away: A box of teabags. The first few bags were very neatly opened and emptied, the next few somewhat messily ripped open, and after that just sheer utter chaos.

              Poor thing must have been wired on caffeine to within an inch of its life.

          • jharp says:

            “Possums must have been around here forever”

            I think not as long as moles though.

            Another utterly fascinating creature that does a lot of damage to my yard.

            I kill them when I can.

            • mch says:

              Are we New Englanders wild animal crazy? I think so. The deer. Well, that’s a saga. They own us. Woodchucks. Hard to say which are more of a problem, them or deer. The bears? Where I live, a recurring phenomenon, but not overwhelming. But all these other critters, too. How about fox? (Red ones, here in the Berkshires.) I like seeing them in my yard (fewer recently, sadly), since I figure they’ll keep the rabbits down, and the rabbits (together with deer and woodchucks) are the bane of my gardening life. But then, I have to worry about my cats, whom we lure in at dusk with promises of food (despite their phenomenal vole and mole and similar hunting prowess — hell, when they were young, the two of them once went after a woodchuck). Got to worry for the cats especially because of the fisher cats, which have re-appeared recently. I guess that’s good, but gee, those animals are cruel. On the outskirts of town (I live “in the village”), cayotes have for years now been an issue, and wild cats, too (yes, mountain lions are back, some species of them).

              In the food co-op the other day, I learned that a particularly tasty chicken-farm in southern VT just gave up because of some kind of vulture making their lives miserable. Probably more to the story than that, but let’s not leave out the sky. It attacks us, too.

              As for porcupines. Not mentioned yet (I’ve only seen ONE here in almost 40 years), but my brother has a rural Maine story to match Karen’s in Austin. Anyway, dogs beware. Each of those quills…. Life is work.

          • ChrisTS says:

            We had a rabid skunk ‘episode’ many years back.

            Spouse was staying home because he had the flu.

            We had a new baby and a new puppy. I put the latter outside on an overhead leash thing and started over to my car.

            A skunk seemed to be harassing our rabbit in its cage. Then, it came towards me. I thought, “Yo, dummy, I am the HUGE human, and you are the little whatever you are.”

            Pretty quickly, I realized something was wrong ( its lack of fear, its awful sickish appearance, its remarkably speedy yet nonlinear approach).

            I ran back, grabbed the puppy, and then ran into the house, where I told the spouse what was happening.

            His spectacular melt-down has been the fodder for many class discussions. Good times.

            Also: Most possums are nasty looking things. The photo of the plump and not scabby/flea bitten/ragged looking possum was either fabulously lucky or cheating.

            • Ronan says:

              “Yo, dummy, I am the HUGE human, and you are the little whatever you are.”

              Oh Ive been there aswell.
              Except, Im ashamed to say, with a neighbourhood cat. Terrifying.
              At least with a skunk its exotic enough that you can tell the story without people looking at eachother crosseyed, and then at you with pity, and then – ‘a cat, are you F$$$$$$ng kidding me!’
              Cat owners dont know how evil their creatures are to us civilians.


          • joel hanes says:

            Possums must have been around here forever

            Nope, they’re a South American native, a descendent of the Gondwanaland marsupials that flourished for millions of years in South America with a small cast of placentals for competition.

            The oppossums and armadillos are a slow south-to-north invasion — bad winters are hard on oppossum, and push their northern limit back for a time.

            The north-to-south invasion of placentals into South America went much more quickly and was much more successful; placental grazers and carnivores replaced many of their marsupial competitors in South America millions of years ago.

            • mch says:

              Ah, interesting. Recent (relatively) warm winters may explain why I first saw possums here only in recent years. This cold winter (once what I would have called normal, whatever “normal” means in New England) will probably reduce their numbers. I hope certain beetles are also reduced, here and much further south. I don’t mind the possums. The beetles (or rather, the damage they do), another story.

      • William Berry says:

        Skunks and raccoons very frequently come into the (brightly lit) potrooms at the Al smelter where I work. They seem rather tame, and show little fear of humans. We humans, on the other hand, give them a wide berth. They snoop around looking for something to eat, and finally wander off into the dark.

        I love the critters, great and small. Not far from my house there is a small, dense urban wooded area. It is home to lots of raccoons, opossums, even a family of foxes. My wife and I never flush food down the disposer, nor do we throw it in the trash. We set it out behind our garage almost every night. It is consumed by the critters (and the occasional house cat) without fail.

        Putting out your scraps for the critters, and leaving nothing foodlike in your trash cans, is the secret to preventing trash can raids. Once we had some pistachios that didn’t taste so good. We didn’t think any critter would want them, so we threw them in the trash. The next morning, the trash can lid was off, a couple bags had been dragged out and torn apart, and there was an amazing pile of pistachio shells on the concrete carport. Definitely raccoon.

        Once we had a large hambone, which I carried out to the back of the property, near the woods. The next morning we saw, in broad daylight, three young red foxes teaming up (with considerably nipping and jostling and lots of comical antics) to drag it off into the woods.

    • witless chum says:

      I like our neighborhood skunks. There’s one with an abnormally wide stripe that’s really cool looking. I can’t wait until one gets my neighbor’s pomeranian.

    • Alan in SF says:

      We get the occasional possum or skunk in our very urban back garden in the upper Castro, and I must say the possum was the ugliest animal I’ve ever seen. We get quite a few racoons, who, if we forget to put the cat food away, come in through the cat door and steal his food. One year we had a litter of four young ‘uns visiting us regularly, but the real point of all this is one day I saw the four of them walking down our street in daylight, on the sidewalk, just out for a city stroll.

      Again: Possums — ugly.

      • ChrisTS says:

        Yes. They are naturally ugly, and most of them are scabby and unhealthy looking.

        Also, Dude. once you are in our Have-A-Heart trap, we will not believe you are dead just because you lie still.

        • Lee Rudolph says:

          On the other hand, the one time that a possum got into our house (through the cat door), and I heard it knocking things over in the kitchen and came storming downstairs noisily but slowly enough that it had time to play dead, that worked to my advantage: as it lay not-dead, I had time first to clang an enormous mixing bowl over it, then slide a cookie-sheet under it, then take the whole shebang out to the porch (the kitchen’s on the second floor) and fling the possum out and away.

          As expected (though not hoped), it picked itself up, dusted itself off, and exited stage left pursued by nothing and nobody. But it never did come back to the kitchen.

    • Brad Nailer says:

      At our Mill Valley apartment a few years ago, I was awakened in the middle of the night by bumping and scratching noises from the kitchen. I went out and turned on the light and there was a possum chowing down on the cat’s food. He/she looked up at me, backed away from the bowl, quietly turned and ambled out through the living room to the patio door that we always kept open for the kitty. “No big deal, and thanks for the dinner.” He/she came back a few days later, though, in broad daylight and got hung up behind the stereo cabinet. I had to chase him/her out with a broomstick; nasty, hissing little bastard when provoked.

  9. jharp says:

    That they certainly were not blessed with beauty there is no doubt.

    And they DO play opossum. Had a dog when I lived in the country who killed everything she could with the death shake. Woodchucks, raccoons etc.

    Once did it to a opossum. Opossum played dead and dog and I went off.

    Came back in mere minutes and the opossum was gone.

    Quite a crafty move in my opinion. Fascinating to me.

  10. witless chum says:

    I once spent about 20 happy minutes standing out in front of Akers Hall at Michigan State watching the reactions from people as they walked out a sidedoor and noticed there was a possum under the shubbery about three feet away eating from a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. There were double takes, quick steps sideways and even a hop, skip and a jump. And several “What’s that thing?”s.

  11. jon says:

    Possum: the other grey meat.

  12. Emma in Sydney says:

    Call that a possum? Thisis a possum! 70 species, my friends, some as cute as you please.

  13. Larry says:

    That playing possum thing is just irresistible, so brilliant and courageous. My two dogs were outside walking toward my front door, and I was behind them. We got closer to the door and a possum happened along just at the time as we arrived at the door. The possum just collapsed on the stone walk and was “dead”. The dogs just sniffed and sniffed a while and then lost interest and wandered off. I left also. As above, a few minutes later the possum was gone. And the Oscar goes to…

    Years later one of my cats came upon a “dead” possum right outside my house. Cats are smarter than dogs. My cat nestled down in the sphinx position a few yards away waiting for the possum to rise from the dead. I wanted to see who would outwait the other, but it was dark and coyotes roam the area, so I decided to bring my cat inside for its own good (regarding coyotes, for instance, cats are full of hubris – or call it stubbornness – as it appears that they sometimes inexplicably believe “it” could never happen to them). Of course, a few minutes later Possum Lazarus was gone.

    One night my wife called me to come home from working late because there was a possum under our bed. It had wandered in through an open sliding glass door. Our cats at that time didn’t mind. They seemed to be in cahoots with it, or just apathetic, and certainly didn’t feel threatened. When I got home, I first made sure the door was still open, then strategically moved around chairs, boxes, dressers, anything I could find to build what became a straight-shot two-sided pathway, with corners and twists and turns, that led from bed to the open door. Then I got on the far side of the bed with a broom and poked it with the straw part. It immediately dislodged itself from under the bed directly into the “easiest maze in the world”, careening ahead and side to side gently bouncing off the “walls” like a furry four-legged pinball with a pointy nose, and through the kitchen under the table bordered by chairs lying on their sides, and popped right out the door. Door closed. Problem over. And I still feel like a genius.

    Last night, I went to my backyard just after dark, bounding down the few steps onto the ground, and I stopped in my tracks and noticed that a possum was stopped in its tracks only a couple of yards ahead of me. We each were on paus. It sized me up quickly. “Should I play possum or should I turn and run-waddle off”? It ran-waddled off. I wish I could understand its decision. It was fucking cute though, especially with a surprised look on its face and then run-waddling off.

    We live by a creek and in some woods, and we’ve had possum, raccoons, and our cats all at the same time on our narrow deck with never a problem. Sometimes the young raccoons will jostle only each other a little (family dysfunction). You see, there was plenty of food to go around, and we were like a good, just, and noble one-percent who made sure that everybody was well-fed and we didn’t hoard all our food wealth in a too-big-to-fail food bank (our refrigerator) but instead understood the value of compassion on a communal woodsy society scale. Screw the coyotes though. They’re on their frigging own. Monsters, I tell you. Magnificent monsters though. With all the deer around, they’re never the scraggly mangy-looking kind. They look like smaller lighter wolves. I fear and loathe them. Okay, I think I wore out my caffeine effect. Thanks for the zzzzzzzzzzz.

    • Denverite says:

      Coyotes are becoming pretty bold in the middle of Denver. I see one on Cherry Creek at least once a month. They’re not skinny.

    • ChrisTS says:

      Cats are full of hubris about almost everything. I suppose that is why they need nine lives.

      • herr doktor bimler says:

        Mrs Spat has burned through two of them already, along with a considerable sum in veterinary bills. One time from what the vet reckoned was the second-biggest abscess he’d seen in his career (and the biggest where the patient survived), the result — he surmised, from the spacing of the bite marks — from a fight with a large dog. The second time, from thinking she was a labrador and swallowing some kind of indigestible nut.

  14. delurking says:

    We get lots of possums here (Arkansas). They come into the yard all the time, I guess after leavings of the dogs’ food.

    The dogs used to chase them down and kill the slow ones — I’d find bodies from time to time. Now the little dog is dead and the big dog is too old to catch’em. Possums run off, get through the fence, and stroll around in the brush, swirling their tails and laughing.

    I always know when it’s happening b/c the dog gets this particular hysterical shriek to his barking: the possum fury, I call it. Nothing else brings it out.

  15. ProgressiveLiberal says:

    Sending dogs after possums or sending dogs after other dogs: difference?

    Only a liberal could split this hair.

    Have fun rationalizing for the evening. ‘Night.

  16. Ramon A. Clef says:

    We recently had a hole fixed in a crawl space ventilation screen, and unwittingly trapped a young opossum in there as a result. There are a couple of ways to get into the basement (yes, a basement in Florida–it’s a weirdly designed house) from there, and so one night we heard the little fellow rummaging through our recycling bins. My wife lured it out to the back porch with a can of cat food and shooed it out the door. Cute little fella.

  17. Hanspeter says:

    57 comments and no mention of the Possum Drop?

  18. J. Otto Pohl says:

    I recently had grass cutter when I was up in Ho this last week. It was really tasty.

  19. Anderson says:

    After one of the little sons of bitches starts coming in through the cat door, eating your cats’ food, and hissing with bared fangs at you and your kid, you’ll be back to “nasty.”

    • delurking says:

      This is true too. When I went to drag him inside a few months ago, my dog had one cornered up against the house. They’re a lot like rats, except bigger.

      And those are some fierce teeth.

  20. Emily68 says:

    Why did the chicken cross the road? To show the possum it could be done.

  21. Major Kong says:

    We had one sitting in the tree right outside our living room window.

    We get a lot of critters around here. Squirrels, chipmunks, racoons, deer, hawks, bats. I’ve even seen a mink in the ravine out back. I thought it was a weasel at first, but it was all black.

    For the suburbs it’s like Wild Kingdom sometimes.

  22. Unwelcome says:

    After an unsuccessful effort at crabbing one day some years back, my brother in law stored a crab pot by the side porch. Sure enough, next morning we found a possum had actually crawled inside.

    A lot of excitement, especially for the kids. Brother in law took it away and assured the kids that he had successfully freed the possum and returned him the to the wild. The adults all suspected he had just drowned the filthy rat.

  23. Glenn says:

    Having grown up in Savannah I am ever so grateful my mother didn’t have a copy of that cookbook.

  24. Shakezula says:

    When I was younger and less patient and innocent of how much a trip to the emergency vet could cost, I would let my cats go outside.

    Occasionally I’d see the bigger one fraternizing with a possum. They’d amble up to each other for a sniff and then amble off on their different nocturnal missions. (The possum to be a gross hell beast, my cat to get filthy and then demand to be let back in.)

  25. Coconino says:

    Back when I lived in West LA, my neighbor across the backyard fence had a fruit tree that he would not tend. The rotten fruit in the tree and on the ground was a great attractant to rats and possums. Needless to say, more than once, there I was, sitting in the hot tub sans clothing and a possum was crawling along the top of the wooden fence. Dripping wet, I would grab the metal rake with the short tines and punt the little bugger back into the rotten fruit yard. It was quite satisfying to hear the hiss and the hard landing. Nasty little buggers.

    Happy now to be in northern NM and deal with bears, lions and coyotes instead. And the occasional bobcat.

    • Warren Terra says:

      Anyone else picturing a dripping-wet Coconino, metal rake in hand, facing off against bears, lions, and coyotes, and the occasional bobcat?

      • Coconino says:

        No hot tub here, so I just stay inside the house or the car for these rural wildlife events. The dog and the ‘yotes have established a healthy respect for each other, however.

  26. Jim Harrison says:

    Eating a possum would be cannibalism for me. Years ago I had a pet possum named Brutus that my wife and I raised from a pup. Brutus was an utterly docile, indeed rather affectionate animal who was very easy to take care of since he would eat anything and readily used a cat box. Talking him out for a walk in downtown Hartford, Connecticut was great fun since the passers by probably thought I had a huge rat on a leash. Close up, though, a possum is not all that rat-like.

    One morning my wife found Brutus lying still in the living room, apparently dead, but then how can would be sure. He was a possum. We decided to take him to a local vet, who was a friend of ours. I wrapped Brutus in an old blanket and my wife drove us to the place. When we got to the exam room, I reached into the blanket to get Brutus, who had gone into rigor and now felt pretty much like a pizza box. The doc, God bless him, looked at us gravely and said, “I’m afraid I can’t hold out much hope.”

  27. El Manquécito says:

    Those of y’all that think possums are ugly need to see the teeny tiny ones holding on to mama, it’s wicked cute.

    Audubon tells us, doubtless with his usual considerable authority, that they are much better eating than raccoons.

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