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Misunderstood marsupial

December 24, 2017
Cole Anderson - Grundy County Conservation Naturalist/Conservation Tech , Reinbeck Courier

Being in the conservation field means you get lots of calls and questions on and off the job about wildlife, which is fair, considering wildlife is a major part of why a person gets into the conservation field. Some questions are extremely good and some. well.. not so much.

We get lots of calls about what to do about baby birds that blew out of a nest or how to keep raccoons out of garbage? Or perhaps how do to trap a ground hog? Others: "Why was there a snowy owl in the ditch?" "What is digging under my porch?" "I caught a snake and kept it as a pet was I supposed to do that?" "I trapped a skunk will you come get it?"

Every day the phone rings with a question about wildlife and we are willing to give an answer to the best of our knowledge. But I have to talk about a call that I have received on numerous occasions and it usually goes a little something like this. Caller- "Sir, you have to come trap this hideous beast that keeps coming into my garage. It's horrible, he has fangs! It is the ugliest thing I have ever seen in my life! I'm pretty sure he's in there because he's trying to eat my cats! I locked up my dog because I'm afraid that horrible ugly thing will give him rabies. It has grey fur and a pink nose and he has horrible snarling teeth and no hair on its tail!" Me- "A opossum, the horrible beast you're referring to is an opossum? Seriously?"

The opossum takes a lot of heat for nothing really. In fact, 9 times out of 10, the opossum has done nothing wrong at all. Almost every time someone has spotted one, it's been in their garage eating their cat food. Opossums are opportunistic omnivores which basically means they'll eat almost anything. In a wooded setting they will concentrate on plants, insects, frogs and dead animals but if you have one living near your home then they will take advantage of garbage and pet food. They love dog and cat food so if you put it out at night. They will come! If someone set out a free ribeye steak and baked potatoes every night near my house, you better believe I'd be showing up!

Opossums are nocturnal so try feeding your outdoor pets in the morning and putting their food away at night. Another tip to keep them away is simply shutting your garage door. Opossums don't create their own dens; they usually just find an old hole or brush pile to make a nest. To them, your garage is a really fancy den with free food inside. So close your garage door and don't leave trash sitting outside for them to rummage through.

In most cases Opossums are doing no harm. They aren't trying to eat your cats; in fact I have seen cats and possums eating side by side on numerous occasions. And they aren't tearing things apart and causing damage. They are usually just after a cheap meal.

So my goal has been to reduce the hatred for these animals and I may or may not have accomplished that goal. So, here are a few interesting facts about Opossums before you go stabbing them in the back with a pitch fork. They are North America's only marsupial which basically means they carry their babies in a pouch, similar to a kangaroo. They have 50 teeth which is more than any other North American mammal. You try looking like you're not snarling with that many teeth. They have opposable thumbs. And they are thought to be one of the oldest surviving mammals dating back to the days of the dinosaur.

This really is one misunderstood marsupial.



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