Since I have been featuring birds, I thought this morning I would tell about my favorite ambassador who happens to be a marsupial. Sadly, Maggie passed away last year at the ripe old age of four…I know you are probably thinking, wait, four? It’s not that long, but opossums only live to be three or four years old. Maggie was one of my favorites to present because when you would first get her out most people’s responses were of disgust or total uninterest, It’s just a ‘possum, why bother? After talking about Maggie and why possums are so unique, most people would walk away thinking that maybe, just maybe, they shouldn’t hit opossums with their cars.
One of my favorite memories of Maggie was during the summer of 2015, and we had three construction workers working in the room where we house the mammals. Now I live in rural Appalachia and these were the stereotypical “manly men,” complete with the beards. I walked in and began to prepare feeding the baby opossums we currently had because it was May, and May is baby season in wildlife rehab. Well, the three construction workers began to get curious and they stopped working and started watching the baby opossums. As their curiosity increased, one of them hesitantly asked, “What is that?” Without even looking up from the baby I was feeding, I answered, “A baby opossum, only a few weeks old.” Another construction worker commented, “It’s kind of cute.” Well by this time I had finished that cage and began to work on another cage. Now this cage had opossums who were a few weeks older than the first cage. Their curiosity was too much to contain and they had walked over to better investigate these tiny helpless creatures, who I have to say are one of the cutest babies (well I am slightly biased)! Looking at them, I started to give them the education talk on opossums. Well, that just opened the door wide open for conversation, and one of them said, “I always try and aim my truck for ’em, and you’re sayin’ this time of year I could be hittin’ a mamma with babies?” I nodded solemnly and said “Around here it was a huge problem because people view opossums as a varmint. On the contrary, opossums are more like nature’s garbage cleaners, they keep eat bugs, carrion, and decaying matter.” This helps to keep the ecosystems clean. Showing the men all of the different ages and sizes of opossums we were rehabilitating, I soon ran out of baby opossums to show off. Not wanting to waste a great opportunity to change someone’s mind. I told them to hold on for one minute. I stopped my feedings and got up to fetch Maggie.
Above are two pictures of about one-month old baby opossums, their eyes have not opened yet.
The picture on the left features opossums less than one-month-old and younger than the ones above. The picture on the right features an opossum closer to three months, which is when they wean.
I returned to the three men in mammal room but this time with my fat sleepy Maggie. A fourth construction worker showed up wondering what was taking his co-workers so long. Excitedly the three men, I had been talking to started to share everything they learned to their co-worker.
“Don’t hit ’em with your car, they might have babies!”
“Possums don’t git rabies!”
“Possums are like nature’s garbage cleaners!”
“They are actually really cute!”
“They don’t smell awful like I thought they would.”
Trying not to laugh, “Yep, and would you like to pet one now?” It was like looking into the faces of four kids at Christmas. All reservations about opossums now gone they were no longer hesitant and instead eagerly reaching for Maggie. As they pet her fur, which is soft and bristly like a shepherds fur, they were chatting amongst each other about how they had learned so much and couldn’t wait to go home and share it with their families. One of them even apologized to me for hitting so many and then promised he would never hit one on purpose again.
I must have spent an hour with those guys and days like that are why I do wildlife rehabilitation.
I would often place Maggie out in the front yard for a change of scenery and exercise, but like any good opossum, all she wanted was to sleep! This is her in her favorite spot under a holy bush up against the building. She would sleep there for hours only moving if a bug crawled over, and then she would eat it!