Monday, May 2, 2016

'Possum Wrangler

I'm hiding under the desk. Mouse traps don't bodda me.
Apparently I have a new job title: baby 'possum* wrangler.

I was cleaning up outside, and I must've disturbed this little nocturnal fellow, who hiked up the steps and took refuge in the bedroom. (I had wakened him from his nap.)  Of all the places in the house, he chose the bedroom. Smart feller. Neil heard something rustling and freaked out, thinking it was a mouse in the trap, or worse, a huge rat. (He saw it from behind, tail first.) Luckily he didn't do the coup de grease on the little critter.

As designated rescuer of all creatures great and small, I was automatically elected for the job of getting him out from behind the desk. Easier said than done. He squeezed behind the desk and the wall; he had wedged himself in a crevice, with mouth open wide, hissing like a cottonmouth. I knew it was all for show, but he had a lot of sharp teeth. So with ski glove in hand, I managed to roll him with my finger onto his feet. I carefully pulled him out from behind the desk, holding him (the 'possum, not Neil) by the scruff of the neck, like a kitten. He went limp as a biscuit.

I'm playing possum in the dirty laundry. Nice and stinky.

I wrapped him in a pair of Neil's knickers that were on the floor. He went into full death mode and said: "I'm dead, Jim. Really, really dead. See? Well, maybe I'm only a teeny bit dead." He didn't quite have his "I'm really dead" schtick down. He kept peeking at us. Especially after I began to pet his cheek with a gloved finger. He seemed to like it. But he wouldn't eat the foot scraps I offered.

I'm so dead, I'm so dead. I'm dead, I'm dead, I'm dead.

He feigned death, or fainted, a few times, but when he saw we weren't buying his act, he sat up like the baby he was. All the world may be a stage, but I told him he needed to keep his day job. He looked insulted. Then he waddled off into the undergrowth snuffling for bugs. Fleas poinging off him like a cartoon.

Yes, opossums really do play dead. They also open their mouths and drool and hiss like snakes when threatened, but they're extremely docile. When I used a towel to try & pick him up, he didn't even attempt to bite it. Weirdly, they have 13 nipples. I bet you wanted to know that.

If he hadn't been such a dirtbag, I would've tested his prehensile tail. Taken it out for a spin. But his fleas were abandoning ship, so all I could think of was to get him to move along after he recovered from his fainting spells. Their temperature is low for a mammal, 94 to 97°.  My body temperature is 97.8°, so I was a logical new host.

What, you're still here? Well maybe only a little bit dead. It comes and goes.

It's too bad they're such flea-ridden tick magnets. Luckily they also love to eat ticks, and are probably our best defense against Lyme disease. They do carry fleaborne diseases, so don't handle them if you can help it. But they never carry rabies. They just show their teeth (and they have a lot of them),  they froth at the mouth and drool alarmingly when threatened. They also have stink glands like a skunk, but Junior wasn't big enough to know how to use his. Or maybe he thought Neil's knickers were stinky enough.

Aren't I cute?

They may look ugly (when full-grown), they can't help that, but they're good critters to have in the garden. They eat bugs, slugs and snails, rats and mice, and your compost, too, if you leave it out. The stinkier, the better.

Who loves ya baby? yeah, yeah, yeah.

I never saw 'possums in growing up in West Marin during the 1950s-70s, but I did have a clumsy guest when I lived in Forestville, Sonoma County, during the 1980s-90s. They're not native to the west coast, introduced to San Jose in 1910. Why, I don't know. Someone homesick for 'possum stew? (Tastes like chicken.)

I'm just glad he was a baby, and not a full-grown football-sized 'possum. I might not have been so opossumably brave.

*We have opossums in North America, emphasis on the big O. Australia has possums, not the same critter, though both are marsupials. Drives the Aussies freakin' wild that we call our opossums "possum" too. Their possums are way cuter, BTW. And it's Dame Edna's favorite term of endearment. It's spelled 'possom, here, if you must shorten it. Just don't write it o'possum. Got that, Possums? Good.

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