Tag Archives: Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana)

You look like you could use an opossum

You’ll have to pardon the quality of the photos since it was early morning and the contrast of the bright sky and dark foliage didn’t make it easy to take photos without washing out all the details with the flash.

This juvenile opossum ran into the tree when I walked outside.  At first, it was way back in the middle of the tree.

Juvenile opossum hiding in the tree (154_5435)

After I stood quiet and still for several minutes with the camera held in front of me, the little rascal began to work its way toward me.

Juvenile opossum hanging onto a limb and watching me (154_5474)

Eventually, it worked its way to the closest limb where it could take a close look at me.  When I didn’t pounce, it then climbed down and left.

Juvenile opossum sitting on a near limb deciding if it is safe to climb down (154_5457)

[need I mention creepy little hands? and check out the difference between the front and rear paws as is especially evident in the last photo…]

I love watching them do that

I have a strange fascination with animals that can descend headfirst.  There are very few animals capable of this feat.  Well, there are very few when compared to the total number of animals we know about.  Some types of leopards can do it, snakes can do it, squirrels can do it, and most certainly, opossums and raccoons can do it.  It takes physical traits as well as ability to pull it off without flying face-first into the ground below.  After all, think about climbing a tree and how you eventually had to get down.  It’s the same way bears get down: ass first.  That makes the descent more difficult since you don’t have a clear view of what you’re doing or where you’re going.

Anyway, I can’t explain why I’ve always been so fascinated with animals that can descend the same way they ascend.  Perhaps it has to do with envy.  If I can’t do something, I probably have a weird interest in those creatures that can.  This is undoubtedly similar to flying, swimming deep for long periods of time without respiration equipment, or seeing well in the dark.  Maybe it’s just a Superman complex in that I want to do all the impossible things I can’t do naturally.

The point of all this is that I accidentally scared a juvenile opossum (Virginia opossum; Didelphis virginiana) yesterday morning.  While it seemed rather late for it to be out and about, opossums are generally nocturnal but aren’t required to be so like raccoons (Procyon lotor).  This little guy was probably on his way to his daytime bed when he stumbled upon the cat food outside.  When I stepped out to the patio, he scampered into the tree.  Eventually, as long as I stood there quietly and without large or sudden movements, he became unable to see me and finally came down.  Although I know he could smell me (they have an excellent sense of smell) and therefore knew I was still there, I also know the pile of cat food at my feet was very enticing.

I was able to capture his descent on video.  Again, I’m just fascinated by the whole headfirst thing.  Oh, and take note of the expert use of its prehensile tail.

By the way, that’s Vazra you hear in the background.  The windows were open and he was talking up a storm.  He does that when anything or anyone is outside.

You shouldn’t be out in the daytime

Sitting at my desk around 11:00 this morning as I read the news and petted Loki while he slept beside the laptop, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye.  Something scampered along the patio right next to the windows and doors in my office.  I couldn’t make out what it was based on peripheral vision, but I knew a small animal was skirting the exterior wall.  Based on prior experience, I immediately suspected it was a squirrel.  They tend to be the only mammal that will venture into this area during the day that can also fit through the fence (the latter being the most important point since bobcats, foxes, rabbits, coyotes, and badgers can also be seen during the day around here if you’re lucky, but none of them can fit through my patio fence).  Squirrels are apprehensive on the patio given it’s an enclosed space.  That often means they sneak about trying to go unnoticed; this is a far cry from their antics outside the fence where they can find food and a quick escape up the tree, into the bushes, or in any direction covering a 270° arc.

I immediately rose from my chair and stepped over to the door so I could take a peek.  Much to my surprise, it was not a squirrel.  I was immediately troubled to see it was a baby opossum.  I grabbed my camera and headed out to the patio through the bedroom door (opposite where the opossum was currently milling about).

The little fella was small enough to stand comfortably in my open hand.  It was no more than six inches (15 centimeters) from the tip of its nose to its ass.  With a tail about 6.25 inches (16 centimeters) long, it’s total length was no more than 12.25 inches (31 centimeters).  This was a baby in every respect and was a tiny fraction of the size of adult opossums.  Consider this:

Baby opossum stepping up to the fence (150_5094)

That is a two-by-four he’s stepping on at the bottom of the fence.  Also, remember the fence’s measurements: lattices form the diamond spaces that are 2.75 inches by 2.75 inches (7 centimeters by 7 centimeters), and the space across each hole from corner to corner (horizontally and vertically) is just shy of four inches (10 centimeters).  He was able to step through them both fully upright and with a lot of room to spare.  Keep reading for more…

Baby opossum standing just inside the patio fence (150_5092)

Compare both of those to the infamous opossum butt where an adult animal is already halfway through the fence.  Notice the significant difference in size between the two.

If you need to scale the juvenile beast to something you can relate to, here’s some reference material.

Baby opossum standing near an almond and a pecan half (150_5097)

To the right of its nose is an almond.  Above and slightly to the right of its nose is a pecan half.  Everyone should have experience with at least one of those two foods to understand the size involved.  What you see below the little guy are various seeds and food items.  There are sunflower seeds (both black oil and stripe), corn, and safflower seeds, not to mention the pecan halves and almonds that are visible, and the walnuts that are out of the picture.

I watched as he tried to eat an almond and failed.  It was too large and too hard for him to chew.  He then tried a pecan half.  Unfortunately, he also found those were too large and too hard.  While I’ll admit almonds can be a bit cantankerous to the chompers if you’re dentally challenged, at my scale and with my experience, pecan halves are not hard at all.  And yet this tiny thing was unable to chew either one of them.

A closer shot of him demonstrates the scale of his body with regards to the corn and sunflower seeds on the ground.  It also shows he has no worrisome reflection in his pupils (the reason that’s important I will explain below the photo).

Close-up of the baby opossum showing his scale against sunflower seeds and corn kernels (150_5099)

Opossums are active only at night.  They generally return to their daytime sleeping place around dawn each morning.  I have seen them out just before and just after the sun breaches the horizon, but I have never seen them out in the full light of day like this small one.  For nocturnal animals like raccoons and opossums, being out in daylight normally indicates something is terribly wrong.  For that reason, I looked for the major warning signs: foaming or excessive discharge around the mouth (rabies), odd reflective colors in the pupils under direct light (distemper), and disorientation, confusion, or shakiness on their feet (rabies and distemper).  Nothing amiss was evident.

I stood on the patio and watched as this child moved from edible item to edible item trying to find something to eat.  It eventually chanced upon a dried cherry (something I put out for the cardinals).  It was large compared to the minuscule monster, so it took some time to eat it all.  With that properly masticated and swallowed, it eventually moved on around the corner.  While I rushed back inside and to the front door to see if I could surreptitiously intercept the opossum, it was long gone before I got there.  Too much brush and cover is available for me to know if it was right there near me or had already disappeared into the area around the lake.

I’m forced to wonder if this was one of the children of Momma Possum.  I don’t know how quickly they grow and can’t make an educated guess as to whether it was too small, too large, or just right.  Knowing the plethora of wildlife around here, it might well be the offspring of some animal I have never seen in these parts.

Likewise, I’m also forced to wonder why this poor child was out wandering in the daytime.  That’s highly unusual for opossums.  And yet, it’s not entirely unheard of, so it’s absolutely possible it’s still too young to get the timing right on when to be foraging and when to be asleep.  It’s also possible it’s already sick with something unrecognizable to me, or something which as yet has not given rise to recognizable symptoms.

[all photos of a baby Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana)]

Wasn’t there more food in that bowl?

This is a bowl of cat food.  It’s the bowl I leave on the patio for the various felines that visit (most notably, at least in the last several weeks, Vazra).  I stepped outside at dusk to retrieve the feline food and water bowls.  They would be replaced with all manner of nourishment for the nocturnal wildlife.  When I stepped outside, the first thing I realized was that the bowl had significantly less food than it contained when last I saw it less than an hour before.  Click on the picture to understand where the food went.

Think “creepy little ‘hands'”…

Bowl of cat food on the patio (145_4531)

I hope you took special note of the hands.  I still say they’re a bit creepy in a human kind of way.  And yes, I left the bowl where it was and found it empty an hour or so later when I again checked it.

Opossum butt

After I accidentally kicked over the bowl of cat food out on the patio, I decided I would just leave it there for the raccoons.  Of course, I would augment it with a few other items.  I sliced an apple, grabbed some almonds, and then headed back out to the patio.  I placed some almonds with the cat food and placed some more outside the fence.  It was then I realized I didn’t have the apple with me, so I went back inside.  When I stepped back outside the door with the fruit in hand, the crunch-crunch-crunch in the darkness immediately drew my attention to the pile of cat food.  There stood an opossum staring back at me.

He immediately headed back to the fence, but I have seen recently that he is having increasing difficulty getting through it.  He’s still growing, and I think we can all agree that he’s eating well.  Suffice it to say he didn’t get through the fence.  While he tried to push through, I aimed the camera and snapped a photo.  It was pitch black outside and trying to snap photos was near impossible since I couldn’t see anything through the lens or viewfinder.  Essentially, I had to aim and shoot and hope it focused on the right thing.

As you can see from the picture below, it did.  This is opossum butt, raw and savage and in your face.  I also want to point out that his front end is already through the fence at this point, so you can see the challenge he faces with the rest of his body (another JLo booty if I’ve ever seen one).

Rear view of an opossum trying to escape through the fence (144_4470)

I had to fight the urge to laugh when he reversed back onto the patio.  He couldn’t fit through the fence — again.  Because I was being absolutely silent and absolutely still, he turned and looked around the patio for a brief moment (I knew he couldn’t see me clearly in the dark, especially if I didn’t move).  Another urge to laugh had to be suppressed when he went right back to the food and began eating.

Rear view of an opossum trying to escape through the fence (144_4472)

Yes, that’s his tongue sticking out.  I guess that was his opinion of the flash going off several times in his face.  And check out the creepy little “hands” he has both front and back.  Very odd thing, those feet, although I’m hoping to get a better picture so you can see how weird they are.

Anyway, I stood there quietly and stopped taking pictures so he could eat in peace.  I backed slowly to the door and tried yet failed miserably to get back inside as quietly as possible.  Despite the amount of noise I made fumbling with the door, stumbling through it, and struggling to get it closed (including several failed attempts), all that did was make him pause for several seconds before returning to his meal.  That’s where I left him.  I put out the apple later.