Playing ‘Possum

Forrest had to put in a lot of work to keep the wildlife feeders and water tub filled during the recent winter storm. Normally, we hand-carried five-gallon buckets of deer feed down the slope to the feeders, but more than ten inches of snow cover made walking to the bottom much too treacherous. So Forrest fired up the Kawasaki mule every other day and loaded it with buckets of feed to fill the feeders. While on such an excursion one evening, he found a young opossum perched on a fallen tree limb. After filling the feeders, he wondered if maybe this lone opossum needed help, so he came up from the canyon bottom to fetch me. Together we looked the youngster over and, not seeing any wounds or signs of distress, we decided to leave it be.

It was a bit odd for a opossum to be out in broad daylight, perching on a limb on the ground. It simply opened its mouth to bare its teeth as we neared. Otherwise, it was motionless, even when I gently poked at its hindquarters with a stick. I wondered if it was simply “playing ‘possum”, hoping we would leave. So we did leave and, sure enough, just twenty minutes later found him eating deer feed from the pan feeder with another opossum who had joined in the feast. Apparently, he had been waiting for us to leave. My only regret was not getting pictures that evening. In my younger days, the cold would not have bothered me much and I would have made time for photographs. But on that cold, snowy evening, I sought the comfort of the warm indoors, and was content to know the opossums were getting the food they needed during the difficult conditions.

As I approached the feeder area, Gracie deer was just getting ready to sample the feed Forrest had just brought to the pan feeder. The opossum was quietly retreating to the hackberry tree as we approached.

Two evenings later, Forrest went down to the canyon with a little bucket to fill the pan feeder, as the deer had arrived for their evening feed of deer pellets before venturing off to the woods. It was their evening habit to stop at the feeders before moving on to graze on woodland eats, or whatever it is that deer do in the nighttime hours. While Scout, Gracie, and Ruthie deer are big enough to reach the upright feeders, little Penelope cannot, and has to eat pellets from the ground that are dropped by her bigger sisters. So each evening, Forrest brings a small bucket of feed to the pan feeder so that Penelope and other critters can easily get nourishment.

Knowing I had been kicking myself for not getting photographs of the opossum two days prior, Forrest let me know he’d just spotted another opossum near the feeders. I grabbed a coat and my camera, and slowly ambled down the slope. The snow had melted, thankfully, and traversing downhill was squishy and a bit muddy, but not treacherous. At the bottom, I quickly spotted the opossum, hanging on a Virginia creeper vine while doing his best to look nonchalant. There, it hung perfectly still. Just as the previous opossum remained motionless on the tree limb on the ground, this fella did the same, only clinging quietly to the vine. I took several photographs before thanking him for being so cooperative, and then climbed the slope back to the house. Sure enough, just ten minutes later, I observed him at the pan feeder eating alongside another opossum, while an armadillo rooted around for eats nearby. It was a quiet gathering, with everyone minding their own business.

Just in case I may have spotted him, the opossum bares his teeth in warning, but holds perfectly still.
Any movement was slow and deliberate to keep an eye on me.

I completely understand the nature of playing ‘possum and even feel a bit of kinship with these sweet mammals. The opossum wisely shows us to use all of our instinctual skills in order to survive. Stillness, watching and listening, and even feigning death are utilized by many species to survive in the wild. Sometimes, barring of teeth is enough to send a would-be foe off in another direction. For a few months, I have felt uneasy and distressed by a feeling of underlying evil in our country, and perhaps even around the world. It’s difficult to know where we can be safe or who we can trust – things are not entirely what they appear to be at this time. Opossum shows us the path of gentle and passive means to skirt and fool predators. His message for us in these uncertain times, may be to simply keep still, play a little ‘possum, and wait for danger to pass.

Armadillos have terrible eyesight and their hearing doesn’t appear to be great either, but their sense of smell is outstanding. While the opossum clung quietly to a vine in the tree, this armadillo rooted around for eats in the soil. This fellow allowed me one photograph before catching my scent, then bounding off quickly to the cover of the woodland vegetation. Mostly I see armadillos nosing around at night on our property. They do a lot of digging and rooting up of soil while working the night shift!

© 2021 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


38 thoughts on “Playing ‘Possum

  1. It’s good that you took advantage of your second chance for possum portraits. The last one is especially close. I didn’t know to what extent “playing possum” is real; you’ve given strong evidence that it is. The armadillos we’ve occasionally seen in our back yard haven’t been skittish and didn’t seem to mind our presence not all that far away.

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    1. I always thought playing possum was more like feigning death. I had photographed an older opossum years ago that just laid there as if it was dead. However, a few minutes after I left the scene, it got up and lumbered away. Both of these recent observations with opossums made me realize that I still have a lot to learn about them. We love to see them in the woodlands, but if we ever find them in the chicken barn, they are relocated. They love to eat eggs!

      We see a lot of armadillos here. I often try to see how close I can get to one before it catches my scent. They truly have the worst eyesight and hearing. Most of our neighbors have moth balls in their yards to keep armadillos away, but we don’t mind them. They’re quite entertaining to watch and very unusual looking.

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  2. I just mentioned ‘my’ possum in my comment to your other winter storm post. I have a pretty cute photo of him at the bird feeder; every now and then he’s still around at dawn, getting a last nosh before heading off to wherever he sleeps. They sure do play possum. I’ve seen one stop midway up a tree trunk and hold a pose until I start feeling sorry for it and move on. Even the one that comes to the bird feeder doesn’t scurry off when I go out. He’ll just freeze, give me a once-over, and then sloooooowly begin to move away, one tiny movement at a time.

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    1. I love the opossums and was so thankful to get some photographs! I’m continually learning about them from these springtime observations. I’m glad to hear you’ve had similar sightings of them “playing opossum”. We seem to have a larger population this year, possibly because we relocated two foxes last year. That and someone has been taking out some of the local coyote population. We’ve found several carcasses on the leased property. So there is a mystery to be solved. As you know, I’m not a fan of the coyotes because of our rehabilitation work, but I also feel uneasy about someone hunting without permission.

      Still, the orchard and woodlands, with all of the trees and brush down from October’s ice storm, and the recent high winds, nature is creating a wonderful habitat for many mammals. I’m glad to see more opossum’s on the place. I hope they feast on ticks like I’ve heard they do. We’re already seeing lots of ticks on the four fawns.

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  3. I am so glad that yall put food out for for an assortment of wildlife and it pretty evident that many benefitted from the food . Very nice pics of the possum and the armadillo. When our son was abut 13 years old, he raised an orphan possum. We released the possum in our yard where we sometimes saw it from for several years. After the possum rescue, my husband gave our son the nick name of Possum and the name has stuck all these years. Possums are quite beneficial too but I see so many that succumb to the deadly wheels of street and highway traffic.

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    1. Hello Yvonne! I remembered you said your son raised an orphaned opossum! That is one species I have not raised myself but I have transported to Wildcare to rehabilitate. Either I didn’t have the time to devote to their care, or there were just too many for me to take on. Mama’s can have a lot of babies! What a wonderful experience for your family, and isn’t it wonderful to see them return to your yard occasionally. It’s a good feeling knowing they survive on their own despite being raised by human hands.

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  4. Amazing to see these animals up close! Our possums are very different to the Opossums so I really enjoyed getting to see yours up close. I don’t know where I thought armadillos lived but my first guess would not have been Oklahoma. Thanks for sharing your story, Lori.

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    1. I was so thankful to have another opportunity to photograph a opossum, after ixnaying the earlier possibility due to the cold temperatures! I’m just not as adventurous as I used to be, but I feel an inner niggling to get back to more hiking with my camera.

      Armadillos are heavily populated here. They are probably the species we see most often dead on the side of or in the road. We have a couple that roam around our home in the night. Maybe people don’t like the digging they do, but I find it minimal really. They’re fun to watch, and easy to sneak up on to photograph. They’re incredibly fast, and when first startled they can jump fairly high.

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      1. They are very common in Beverly Hills (in Los Angeles County) because the dense landscapes are infested with rats. Strangely, they are notably rare beyond regions where rats are so abundant, even if fruit trees are abundant. Some people are afraid of them.

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        1. I think people tap into fear out of ignorance a lot. I have never heard of a opossum attacking a human. They do hiss and bare their teeth, but that’s about the gist of it. What you said about Beverly Hills bing infested with rats surprises me! Why is that do you think?

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          1. Most of Beverly Hills is no more infested with rats than other urban neighborhoods in the region. However, homes in ‘the Flats’ (which seems like an unflattering designation for the residential neighborhood north of Downtown) are very densely landscaped with species that provide an abundance of sustenance for rats. ‘Supposedly’ in the late 1980s, in America, only urban regions of Hawaii and Florida were more severely infested with rats. (I am still skeptical about that though.) The Canary Island date palms alone produce more dates than the wildlife there can consume, even if they do not seem to be edible to a casual observer. Palms, Algerian ivy, and various lush vegetation are ideal nesting sites for rats. Otherwise, without the lush landscapes, the desert climate is not conducive to the proliferation of rats.

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          2. Well, rats in landscapes of a residential neighborhood in Beverly Hills is not exactly an important topic outside of the region.
            While in Oklahoma, I noticed how simple and utilitarian the landscapes were. Although I am very much a native Californian, I will never understand why the landscapes here are so ridiculously lush and crowded.

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    1. Indeed, they are quite beautiful, but I doubt most people would say that. I think they tend to get a bad rap from most people. They’re really gentle creatures. I like their simple way of baring teeth and hissing to ward predators off, and find it very interesting that playing dead can work to save them from attack. They’re clever little mammals.

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    1. Aw, thank you! I got lucky with photographing this particular opossum. I had plenty of time to get the images I desired. And of course, there is always a little story to go with!

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    1. Thank you, Dale. “Super-model” is about right. Usually, opossums have ear issues – frost bite or loss from insect bites or accidents of nature, but this one had lovely ears and seemed quite young. You’re right about the armadillo too. They are a strange little varmint but quite interesting to watch.

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    1. This one had very nice ears – usually the only opossums we see have damage of some kind to those fragile ears. I suspect this one is less than a year old and hasn’t gotten any battle scars, and certainly avoided frost bite in the recent Siberian temperatures!

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  5. Love your photos of your special visitors. I love seeing the different kinds of animals that we see at your home compared to mine on the other side of the world. I hope you are finally getting to thaw out and warmer weather on the way. This year our summer has been mild and thankfully none of the horrendous fires of early 2020. The leaves are turning here so it looks like we are going into an early autumn this year. Take care.

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    1. Thank you, Lynn. I know your opossums are very different than ours. I too enjoy seeing the different wildlife and hearing about weather and life so many miles away. It’s an amazing planet. Yes, our weather is more normal spring-like lately. In fact, yesterday, I started cleaning off and planting my vegetable and herb gardens. We will soon be mowing. The four fawns are really flourishing with so much to eat!

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    1. Hi, Jeffrey. I agree with you that opossums are “cute”. Most people here say they are ugly, but I have never found them that way. I am sure the opossum does bite if it’s provoked much. Mostly, they bare their teeth and hiss, making them appear quite ferocious. But that ability to play dead or at least appear sickly, is a clever instinct to avoid an attack or battle.

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  6. Sadly,, most of the opossums I have seen were roadkill and none afforded me the outstanding opportunity you made the most of. All are nice shots. I absolutely love the last with the great look at those ears. I wonder how many folks would consider them ugly if they had a chance to see them cute like that.

    I’ve heard that armadillos have poor eyesight and wonder how many end up as roadkill on the roads. This is my entire knowledge of armadillos. 🙂

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    1. I suspected that video was filmed in Texas or Oklahoma, and sure enough the “Lone Star Limo” confirmed it! Ha ha! That video was made back in the day when oil production was big in OK and TX. Production is way down and oil and gas has folded in the area – many unemployed now and we can’t blame it on Covid. I need to do a post on Armadillos and look up some old photos I took on previous hikes to the river. I was surprised to see that they have a lot of strange, long, wispy hairs all over their head and legs. I suppose if they can’t see or hear well, they go by feel a lot. That video doesn’t lie about how fast they can run. Thanks for a good laugh.

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  7. Possums are so ancient – just fascinating creatures. I don’t think they can open their mouths really wide, but their sharp teeth are dangerous looking enough to back most off. We have them periodically around here (we always can tell as they leave a smell…which Molly charges towards hoping to find something horrid smelling to roll in…then she hates her bath as she worked so hard to find that smell). Each possum seems to have a different coat color/hair pattern. Even the old ones seem very elegant and beautiful.
    That is the cutes possum face picture ever! (Posed just like. Kola!)
    Glad you have a refuge from the storms that this nation is going through. It is heartbreaking. So much noise/hyper emotion is find it difficult to turn on even blogs. Seems like a sci-fi movie. A very dangerous one. (Always appreciate your visits and comments on my blog, just too heartsick to respond and post much these days. Who ever thought disagreeing/ offering other opinions could result being targeted. Free range chickens. “Free range children. Free range thoughts.” Maybe that’s my bumpersticker.)

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    1. You said it – heartbreaking… and I feel so disappointed in people in general. I’m beginning to wonder about the mentality of folks. I’ve pulled back from TV and socializing much. The propaganda is just too much, and I find myself aghast at how deep we are in evil, yet many people I know do not question it or even see it. Brainwashed I suppose. I too have difficulty writing blog posts. It’s been better for me to immerse myself in the outdoors, watching the critters go about life, and observing nature as spring unfolds. Free range?? You betcha!!!

      Opossums are amazing creatures. I think this will be a banner opossum year. I’ve already had a few calls about baby opossums. I’ve seen a few around our canyon area and the orchard. Like most other critters, they eat deer feed so we’re keeping everyone fat and sassy!

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