A violent racket indicates that the creature at your back door may not be a raccoon.
If the snout is pink, the fur thick and tinged with brown, and the foot-and-a-half-long tail pinkish, hairless, muscular and thick as a banana, you got yourself a possum.
Or perhaps you prefer the word “opossum,” from “wapathemwa,” or “white animal,” in Algonquian. Maybe the initial “o’’ was dropped when sensitive Irish immigrants were told the name and thought they were being personally mocked.
Even if you bang on the door from the inside and flash the outdoor lights, the invader just continues clamping its impressive jaws around the shredding wood of an old storage shed nearby, enlarging its new lodge’s entrance, through which it will squeeze in, belly up.
Okay, maybe it’s not your back door.
I can see now it’s not the pregnant female I guessed he might be. Did you know newborn possums nurse in their mother’s pouch until they can ride on her back and that these marsupials don’t have paws but, rather, little pink hands?
So, it’s a he. No family for me to worry about. But a disgruntled bachelor is no picnic. It’s that “omnivorous’’ tag that prevents me speaking to him without the door between us. I mean, technically we both are. But he looked very willing to call any bluff of mine à la Granny Clampett re possum stew.
I’ve just got rid of the squirrels who were conducting intramural renovations, and now I realize it’s King Possum who has scared the wild cats away from territory once theirs. So I may be digging up some old Virginia o’recipes yet. Inside the house, my mousemates are keeping a low profile, somehow darting by exclusively when they’ll be caught only out of the corner of my eye. But it happens often enough that I’m sure they’ll be conducting a big spring tag tournament in the kitchen.
Perhaps the twitching nose of Mister Possum has already scented tender mouse morsels right next to his digs. Mice, unlike that possum fellow, are very sensitive and will leave or at least make themselves scarce when they feel unwelcome.
Mostly they just get tired of starving and go. Their hereditary memory doesn’t seem that strong, so successful food routes can get lost in a generation or two, whereas the use of the roof here as a raccoon toilet predates my residence and continues.
I’m told possums vocalize. I wonder what Mr. Possum will have to say to the ’coons. For a nocturnal animal, he was tearing into his new home quite early, before midnight. Country possums live in trees. Cities change people.
The latest in this unlicensed zoo is the ladybug breeding program. First I thought there was just that one, wintering in the tub. I couldn’t believe it was alive. Then another appeared. Then disappeared.
Then, one night there were four, and two seemed engaged in increasing their numbers. I regularly splashed them a few drops of water in the tub and fished them out of the toilet bowl.
But now a predator has moved in. A tiny spider spun a web and is gorging on its second victim. I don’t know the natural lifespan of a ladybug, but their lifeless shells are starting to outnumber the living.
Ladybugs are considered harbingers of good luck. A superstitious person might take dead ladybugs as a bad omen.
The spider would disagree.
BEST DEFENCE IS OFFENSIVE
A threatened possum will flash its teeth but, oddly, won’t use them, though it has a whopping 50 of them (more than any other North American land mammal ).
If the tooth thing doesn’t scare you, the little marsupials will occasionally “play possum,” pretending to be dead – drooling, pooping or maybe, if you’re lucky, discharging a green anal fluid.
FELINE FRIENDS OR FOES?
These guys are scavengers, eating dead, rotting animals (aka carrion), insects, slugs, mice and, if food is scarce, young kittens.
Adult cats sometimes befriend the otherwise peaceful neighbourhood opossums. (Aww.)
FURRY AND FERTILE
Opossum mamas can really pop out their young – from six to 25 babes one to three times a year. An entire litter can fit into a teaspoon at birth.
SHOWING THEM THE DOOR
If opossums are pestering you, bait a humane trap with tinned cat food and then release the animal. But trapping is kind of unnecessary, since opossums are transient and only stay in one place for a few days.
WHAT THE EXPERT SAYS:
“Opossums are getting more of a foothold in the GTA. One of the biggest threats to them is cold weather. They’re fairly new to Canada and suffer from frostbite. Some people are fearful of them because they can look like giant rats. But if they are cornered, they don’t growl or bite or lunge – they stop dead. There are virtually no diseases they can pass to us or our pets.”
Nathalie Karvonen, exec director, Toronto Wildlife Centre