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O is for Opossum

“O” is for “Opossum” (a critter representation in the Another letter of the Alphabytes).

North America’s only marsupial is representing the letter “O” in this Alphabytes entry.

Kansas City has a pretty fair opossum population scuttling around its alleys and dumpsters. In our old neighborhood, one frequently holed up in the storm drain beside where we parked our car, and the possum and I would mutually surprise each other more frequently than was probably healthy for either of us. I frequently saw others trundling around in the earlly mornings when I was on my way to work. There are a lot of them along the woodsy copse that separates the Children’s Mercy Hospital complex from the Crown Center complex. The first time I saw a bunch of young opossums, I thought they were rats–they were about half grown. A grown possum is about the size of a small cat, but looks like an enormous grey-and-white spotted rat.

Some of the neighborhood possums have been treating my compost heap as a carry-out buffet and eating any kitchen scraps I put out there. I figure that’s okay, so long as they don’t start sampling the veggies and melons in my garden when that stuff starts getting ripe. The next-door neighbor kids are scared of the possums, but I reckon the possums are okay. They won’t stink the place up like a skunk does, they’re not as wantonly destructive as a raccoon, they won’t eat your shingles like a squirrel can, and they won’t chase you and try to bite you like a feral dog might do. My impression of possums was always that they were pretty mild-mannered little critters, and all of the information that Google turns up points to the correctness of this assumption. This page regarding opossum defence mechanisms is pretty amusing. They pass out, drool excessively, gape their jaws, and leak anal fluid when provoked. They can also growl and hiss, though gaping their jaws to show 50 needle-like teeth usually suffices. Most humans will leave them well enough alone simply on their merit of looking significantly like a toothy, cat-sized rat. They look pretty cute in some of the photos on these webpages, but when you find one lumbering through your front yard on trash day, they can easily startle you. They’re very quiet, and don’t like to run out in the line of sight of a potential preditor, so you’ll often stumble across one while it is going along its business.

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