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The Possum

One of the things my dog, Milly, likes about this new house is the possum.

Not that she loves possums — quite the contrary — she considers them her enemy.  And who doesn’t like to have an enemy that you can bark at from a distance but never have to actually confront? It’s really a “play-enemy” of the sort we used to have as kids.

Australian possums are nothing like American possums — they’re small and fluffy and cute and shy. And they don’t have lots of babies — generally just one. Like kangaroos, the babies are called joeys, and are kept in a pouch until they’re old enough to ride on their mother’s back.

I said they’re shy, and that’s true — they only come out after dark, and though plenty of them live in the city, near parks or in leafy suburban areas, most people rarely see them. They do, however see the evidence that there is a possum visiting, because possums love fruits and flowers.

The first evidence I saw that we had a visiting possum was when the lemons on my tree had their peel eaten off. Just the peel, not the fruit. See the photo on the left. The lemons were still hanging on the tree, the entire peel carefully nibbled off.
And the first gorgeous flower of the wisteria disappeared overnight. I was glad I’d taken a photo of it (see below right) because otherwise there was no evidence that the vine had begun to flower.

Possums are protected in Australia — it’s illegal to harm them or keep them. (In NZ it’s a different story, as possums are an introduced species  there and have become a pest to the NZ indigenous creatures, so NZers kill possums and use their fur, generally mixed with wool, to make soft, warm clothing.) But here they’re protected.

They’re generally very shy, but when cornered or threatened or their babies threatened, they can be quite fierce and make this very scary noise — and that’s what sets Milly off.

And now, every evening after dark, there’s a small black dog sitting motionless in the back yard, gazing up into the trees at the back, waiting for the enemy to emerge . . . (Black dogs don’t photograph too well in the dark, so you’ll just have to imagine the sight.) 
If there’s a frenzied eruption of barking, I know the possum is there and sometimes I hear the possum growling back. (Don’t worry, I always bring the dog in before 9pm so she doesn’t disturb the neighbours.)

There’s a short video here of a possum in a suburban back yard tree and you can really hear the scary sound it can make. Normally though, they’re utterly silent..

And here’s a video of a baby possum, looking for its mum.

Do you get wildlife visiting?


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1 year ago

Our possums here in the US are actually quite harmless. They just look scary. The most they do is hiss. A lot. Then they roll on their side and play dead. They’re very beneficial eating ticks at an almost alarming rate along with lots of other bad bugs, don’t carry rabies as a rule, are resistant to snake venom and we do have one venomous snake in Michigan. They eat snails and slugs that eat the vegetable gardens. Ticks here carry a couple of almost lethal diseases to humans so smart humans here love possums in their yard. Other than… Read more »

Anne Gracie
Anne Gracie
1 year ago
Reply to  theo

Thanks, Theo. I had the impression from others that US possums weren’t very nice, so I’m glad to hear that impression was mistaken.
I’ve also saved a baby possum that had fallen from a tree, and took it to a native animal rescue place, where I hope it thrived.

Vicki L.
Vicki L.
1 year ago

American possums are just ugly…at least the adults are. The babies are so ugly they are cute. As Theo says, they are totally harmless and normally you only see them grubbing around at night. I used to get them every year in the spring and summer but haven’t seen them in ages. It was always fun watching the young ones figure out how to grub around underneath my bird feeders. My sister was a rehabber and I took 2 very small babies to her once that had gotten lost off the mama. By the time I got them from my… Read more »

Mary Jo Putney
Mary Jo Putney
1 year ago

Lovely, Anne! I know of Aussie possums of course, and have several NZ possum/wool hats. but I had no idea what kind of noise them made. No wonder Millie is alarmed. American possums are actually good neighbors, but they look like giant rats, which isn’t good for their public reputation As for critters in the back yard, I just took a picture of this lass through the living room windows–she was about 12-15 feet away,

Anne Gracie
Anne Gracie
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Jo Putney

Mary Jo, I remember seeing several deer wandering through your back yard when I visited some years ago. I was thrilled to bits.