A visit of an 'old' friend -
The Possum (or Opossum), America’s only marsupial, goes back 20 to 23 million years. It has a bad reputation. I guess his appearance has something to do with it. As they are usually nocturnal, you often see them in a beam of light. The shaky shadows of a hand held light probably make it look even more scary. It looks like a big rat, with beady eyes, a long prehensile naked tail and it seems to eat everything. When I saw my first possum I thought it was creepy. This was reinforced later with a close encounter.
Compared to other wildlife, they are very helpful and play an essential role in the ecosystem. They consume a variety of foods like beetles, slugs and snails (your home gardens are thankful), but also rotting vegetation, which they prefer to fresh. They are cleaning up dropped fruits and vegetables in the garden.
And there are other items on its menu card, like mice, rats, and snakes (even poisonous ones). As they are scavengers they clean up carcasses, which can spread disease to you and your pets - not to mention foul smells.
They do not get rabies or botulism (early theories said that the foaming at the mouth was rabies, which proved to be untrue). They are immune to toxins in bee and scorpion stings.
And what about the American expression “playing possum” (pretending to be dead)? It is one of their defense mechanisms: they are playing dead. Most hunting predators only eat what they kill when they can. They won’t touch a carcass in most circumstances. “Playing Dead” is actually an involuntary reaction - a lot like fainting, that causes the possum to seize up. When it is in this state, it will bare its teeth, have foam at the mouth and produce a foul smelling fluid from an anal gland to mimic sickness. It will remain like that for up to four hours. Predators will easily avoid such an animal.
Possums have survived the reach of time that included the Earth’s tectonic plates bringing together today’s North and South Americas, and then having time for them to spread around the world! It is truly amazing to be able to watch this living fossil.