The Blue Raccoon

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Opossums are people, too

So yesterday evening, the yoke-mate and I attended a media soireé where, of course, we were chatted up by an arts patron and developer who in the past has enjoyed cavorting with opossums.

I'm a city rat, so, what little I know about the opossum is quite little, indeed. The Goochland County relatives of my youth, when in the haze of post-Thanksgiving feast fatique, would speak Depression-era opossum stews.

My Total Opossum Awareness (TOA) was limited to a few facts, like how the native Algonquin-dialect speaking native Powhatans named the creature, and the rough translation is "white animal."

Otherwise, I regarded opossums as malformed cats observed skulking in their furtive manner when I've returned home after a night out that became so late it was early.

The gentleman of our acquaintance developed his affection for the critter because, "They're ugly and nobody likes them." They have a bad rap, as it were, and he regaled us.

Things I know now and didn't before last night about the opossum:

* They are marsupials, like kangaroos and bandicoots, meaning they hold their yungins in belly pouches. They are North America's single native marsupial.

* Though they have many sharp teeth, they prefer not to fight or bite-- though they are wild animals and will chomp given enough provocation -- but in the main, they prefer to fall over and play dead. I knew the latter, not the former.

* They hiss when annoyed.

* They don't sleep hanging by their prehensile tails; but use them kind of like monkeys when climbing, to grip when leaping and maintain balance.

* They are immune to most poisonous snakes.

* They have a "thumb" on their back feet, sort of like monkeys.

* They are ominivores, but mostly eat dead things, though they also dine on snakes and mice.

• They've been unchanged for 70 million years.

* They seldom contract or spread rabies. "Rabies occur in the brains, and they don't have enough of them," our friend joked. The opossums-spread-rabies convention is inherited from the messy and annoying raccoon, or as the Powhatan people named them, which means--and I'm not making this up -- "one who is always washing the hands."

* Opossums appear in the Bayeaux Tapestry.

....Uhhh...OK, billion-eyed audience, you caught me. I made that last one up.

Plus, opossums are kind of fugly. Which is in with the kids right now.

Why, had it not been named this for Carytown's own Blue Raccoon, in the light of my TOA, I might've named this blog the Awesome Opossum. Sounds like a good band name to me, too.

Viva la Opossum!

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