Monday, April 6, 2009

'Possum Saga

I've been neglecting the Cabinet in favor of the Farm lately, but thought that I'd get one last post in before I take a forced hiatus (see the Farm for that particular saga). The topic is actually related, tangentially, to my reasons for taking time off, but I digress.

Last week my dogs uncovered a nest of baby opossums in our woodpile. I always know there's something naughty afoot (and some't nasty in the woodpile) when Woody doesn't come running the minute I step out the back door. He was lounging out back in the Accidental Garden, intrigued by something, so I went back to investigate.

There he sat, pleased as punch, licking what turned out to be a joey, as they're called, according to my source on the 'possum kingdom (that's sort of a pun; there's a lake by that name south of here). I thought the poor little guy was dead, so confiscated him and got ready to bury him when I noticed that he was still moving. I took him into the house and cleaned him up, and he got a lot more active. Then I noticed that Woody was still back at the woodpile, so I looked again, and there was another one snuggled down into a nest, of sorts, so I replaced the cleaned-up baby back with his/her brother/sister and took the dogs in. Later, I went back and tried to dog-proof the nest enough to give mom a chance to come back and get her kids, and when I let the dogs out again, Woody found another one, making its way through the tall grass that's now filling the open space in that part of the yard.

I picked that one up and put him/her back in the nest, and kept the dogs in for the rest of the day. By bedtime, though, it was clear that the nest had been abandoned, so I went out to get the nestlings and keep them warm for the night. The day had been chilly, though, and one was now cold and stiff--not playing 'possum at all. So I buried him and put the other two in a basket of old tennis socks and put that in the bathtub to keep the house critters away. I gave them some fluids through an eyedropper, but didn't feed them anything, and everybody hit the sack.

The next morning I began to search for 'possum rehab folks on the internet and was directed to the Texas Parks and Wildlife department, where a nice man gave me the number of a woman here in town, but the number was out of service, so I called back--and bingo: The Living Materials Center run by Jim Dunlap for the Plano schools. Why didn't I think of that? Years ago, I lived practically across the street from the facility, and used to lead little kids through the Outdoor Learning Center portion of the property. They were happy to take them, so I made a detour on my way down to work and deposited the little critters and their tennis socks with people who will take care of them.

On the way back to the highway, however, I had a bit of an angina attack (related to the cardiac procedure I'm having done tomorrow) and briefly stopped paying attention to the speedometer. Of course, that one lapse had some consequences: my first ever, in forty years of driving, speeding ticket. The officer was apparently not at all impressed with my 'possum sob story, and because I'm undoubtedly going to be in the hospital when my court date arrives, I won't even be able to plead my case before a judge. So, little miss animal-rescue person who drives below the speed limit on highways and still does everything the nuns told her to do will now have a blot on her otherwise stainless record.

Still, little brother and sister opossum will have a better life, and I'll get over my self pity. They're really interesting animals, and one of the few marsupials native to this area--so they make a nice subject for a Cabinet entry. I founds some lovely photos through Wikimedia Commons, and have a shot of my little pair, so if you've ever wanted to know something about a creature most folks in this part of the world associate with stew, now you have it.

Here are some resources in case you run into a nest: The National Opossum Association (with their very helpful page on orphans), the NatureWorks page on Virginia Opossums (the brand we have around here), and the very complete page from Wikipedia.

Image credits: The post-opener is a lovely winter photo of a 'possum by Wikimedia user Cody.Pope. The closing image is a drawing of Virginia oposums, Didelphis virginiana, from the "small" edition (1927) of Brehms Tierleben (Life of Animals) by by Alfred Edmund Brehm. It was uploaded by a fan of the book, "Petwoe," to Wikimedia Commons. The other photo is mine of the babies in their little basket hotel.


cconz said...

Poor possums are'nt the prettist critters. But, they are endearing. My friend had a baby he found and had living in his apartment for some time. "Johnny" had free run of the place. He also had a squirrel named susie that came and went when she wanted and raised 3 litters in his house. and a racoon. All at the same time. Doug was kind of a character himself.

Administration said...

Australian possums are, I have to say, very much prettier than the US variety (I think having furry tails helps ;-) -- we have many ring tails and bushy tails who regularly drop by our backdoor for a free feed and to scare the bejesus out of the cat... all aus. possums are protected species but thrive in cities, and often act as though they own the place.. coming into the house, rifling through the fruitbowl for favorite varieties and taking up residence in the roof.