That’ll teach those raccoons

It was time to go to bed, so I put out some food for the opossums and raccoons before slipping between the sheets and settling in for a restful sleep.  Within minutes, I heard a bit of noise outside and glanced through the window.  It was a small opossum, certainly not the momma possum I’ve been looking for but haven’t seen in quite some time, and he was making his way around the patio fence.  By small, I mean he was about 2 feet (slightly more than half a meter) in length and weighed perhaps 7 pounds (3 kilograms).  He was a tyke compared to the pregnant female and about the same size as the other opossum who sat in the tree out back and with whom I shared a staring contest late one night.

I watched the little fella as he made his way to the cache of fruit outside the fence I’d left for him and his kind.  He sat quietly enjoying the meal.  Once he’d finished the food, I anticipated he would leave.  Oh, but not so.  He obviously could smell the food inside the fence left for the raccoons.  He walked back and forth several times trying to figure out how to get to it.  I watched him as he poked his head through the fence, stood up against it as if he might climb over, and probed it in several places looking for a way in.  This went on for three or four minutes.

“He’ll leave soon,” I mumbled to no one in particular, “considering he can’t get to the rest of the food.  Unless he really could climb the fence…”  Watching his antics seemed to indicate there was no way he could get to the raccoon stash unless he could either fly or scale the fence.  I was quite certain he could do neither.

Much to my surprise, and despite his inability to perform miracles, he had another trick up his sleeve.  I was exceptionally astonished watching him squeeze through the fence with what appeared to be very little effort.  Keep in mind it’s not exactly a wide-open latticework.  On the contrary, the slats crisscross in an exacting pattern that creates perfect squares 2.75 inches (~7 centimeters) on all sides.  These holes are upended in a diamond pattern of spaces 7.6 square inches (49 square centimeters) in size.  That’s not a lot of room.

He was definitely bigger than could fit through the fence, or so I thought.  I watched as the opossum pushed his way through with no room to spare.  In fact, even in the dark it was obvious he was really squeezing through the hole, squishing his body as much as possible as he forced his way to the inner sanctum of my wildlife sanctuary.  I was amazed and a bit shocked that he actually got through without becoming stuck.

Once on the inside of the fence, of course, he roamed around a bit until he found the raccoon stash (remember opossums have weak eyesight, so he could smell it but had a hard time seeing it).  With the food readily available, he sat quietly and ate all of it — and I mean all of it.  At least I knew this opossum would not need to look for food elsewhere that evening.  Having consumed all that was left for him and his kind as well as what was left for the raccoons (which is always a larger stash since there are more of them), surely this little guy was full.

It took him approximately 10 minutes to finish the entire meal.  Once that was accomplished, he again roamed around the patio for another 15 minutes at least.  He groomed, he walked around, he groomed again, walked more, and continually repeated this for much longer than I thought he would be comfortable doing, and likewise I was surprised the raccoons didn’t stop by while he was there.  I could not imagine what mayhem would ensue should they scale the fence and find no food, but instead would find the gluttonous opossum who’d really screwed them over that evening.  Luckily, that didn’t happen.

After much wandering about the patio interspersed with much grooming, apparently it was time to leave and the opossum made his way back to the same place where he’d originally pierced the barrier between patio and world.

He probed the fence with his nose looking for that just right spot where he could get through.  Having discovered his ingress point, he again stuck his head through and started to make his way off the patio.  The first thing that crossed my mind as I watched this was a concern that, having consumed so much food, he would be unable to get back through the hole through which he barely fit the first time.  No sooner had the thought occurred to me when he stopped halfway through the fence.  I could see his little back legs working all they could and imagined the same was going on with his front legs (which I could not see because his plump body was in the way).  There he sat for 10 or 15 seconds trying to get out.  Eventually, he reversed and pulled himself back through the fence where he stood on the patio sniffing at his escape as though it had changed sizes.

Oh how I laughed.  “Gosh, we didn’t see that one coming, did we, you little piglet?”

Using the same methodology he’d used in trying to find a way onto the patio, he now explored the fence with front feet and nose as he tried to find a way out.  He made several attempts to get through, and each of them ended the same way: his big belly was simply too large and would stop him halfway to the oustide.  While my laughter was heartfelt and sincere, it suddenly occurred to me that he was in danger.  If the raccoons came, someone could get hurt despite my thinking that they would smell him and avoid the patio (I made that assumption but couldn’t be certain it was true).  As I considered what to do, I immediately stopped laughing because of a very simple realization: if that opossum can’t get off the patio by morning, he’ll be stuck there when Vazra comes to eat and when I go out to feed and water him, an event that normally occurs quite early.

“Oh boy.”

I immediately began rooting for him somehow to get through the fence before I was forced to deal with him directly.  Opossums are not generally violent creatures if left to their own devices, and they certainly are not badgers when it comes to dealing with other creatures, but they are still very dangerous and not at all pleasant when cornered — and he was definitely cornered.  The best I could hope for was to scare him without warning.  This would cause his “playing possum” genetic programming to kick in.

You see, opossums pass out from fear, hence the “playing possum” adage.  It’s not that they intentionally and intelligently play dead in the face of predators or other threats; they simply are overcome by their own fear and are therefore rendered unconscious.  If they’re dead, as they appear to be, generally those animals who would otherwise attack them will lose interest.  The problem stems from trying to scare him into abject fear sans prior warning in the hopes of getting him to pass out.  Imagine the difficulty incurred because they have poor eyesight and hearing with excellent tactile and olfactory senses.  What do I do?  Wear really bad cologne and let him feel my muscles so he’s certain I pose a significant threat?  Since I didn’t want him hurt in any way, I would have to address this issue on my own and was not looking forward to it.

I began contemplating and considering how best to address this little problem: the poor little suddenly-fat opossum who ate too much and couldn’t get out the same way he got in.  Again, oh boy.

After deciding he actually would not get back through the fence, he halted his attempts and went back to his original after dinner activities: roaming around the patio and grooming, followed by more of the same.  He did investigate a bit, something I thought was a search for more food — which he apparently didn’t need.  I was pleased to see him finally go back to the place in the fence where he’d first entered.

“So, you’re going to try this again, huh?” I asked, an action that immediately made me laugh as I wondered about my own sanity sitting here naked in the dark at the window speaking to an opossum trapped on my patio.  “Oh boy.”

With a bit more standing up against the fence, more sticking of his head through various holes, more trying to get through, he finally found the gold: either a hole with enough space to pass through, or the energy to push his fat little belly through the same space he more easily passed through before.  In either case, I saw him cross over that hump as his little feet pushed and pushed and pushed.  Suddenly: Pop!  His whole mass tumbled through the fence and out to the other side.  He paused, an action betrayed by his long tail resting limply on the patio while he undoubtedly thanked his lucky stars from the other side.  After a brief moment’s pause, his tail disappeared through the fence and I watched him wander off around the corner of the building.  I bet he was relieved.

In the meantime, I wondered what the raccoons would think about all this.  They certainly have no qualms with eating the food I leave for the opossums before consuming their own.  This was the first time I knew of where it worked the other way around.  My giggles helped me settle back into bed.

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