While some went
north others headed west. They got as far west as Colorado and were halted by
mountains and deserts. (Possums like to be near water and are seldom found
above 4,000 feet.) But then man began toting possums over these barriers and
turned them loose where none had been before. Those released in California
early in this century spread northward at an astonishing rate until now they
inhabit the Pacific Coast from Mexico to Canada.
The latest word on
their distribution comes from Dr. E. Raymond Hall, of the Museum of Natural
History of the University of Kansas. Dr. Hall heads a monumental project in
which $100,000 has been spent in establishing the ranges of the various mammals
of North America. They spent $1,200 just in finding the whereabouts of the
opossum. Their results show that the old wanderer can now be found in all but
seven of the United States, that it has pushed into Canada on the north and
that its southern range extends all the way to northern South America.
The seven states
believed to be possumless are Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North
Dakota and Maine.
With more possums
around more people are becoming interested in them. Some neighbors of mine
found that in addition to feeding their numerous cats on the porch they also
had established a feeding station for several possums. Now the family watches
through a window when the possums take over. As they eat, the possums hiss now
and then at the cats which sit in a ring waiting for the uninvited guests to go
Constantine Nicholas Messolonghites, known as Mike up in Bedford, N.Y. has an
ideal setup for possum study. A pair moved into his heated garage last winter
so he started feeding them. He passed many winter evenings watching them in
When Mike and
other observers take a close look at a possum they see an animal that ought to
be ashamed to go anywhere; it may be a curiosity but it is no beauty. About the
size of a big cat, it is shorter and fatter. In general appearance it resembles
a rat more than a cat. Its pointed white face is fitted out with black, beady
eyes and ears like blackened potato chips, sometimes fringed with white. This
face often wears a grin but it is a mirthless grin. At the other end they see a
bare ratlike tail that is prehensile and more than half as long as the body.
The fur on the body is usually gray but varies from white to nearly black. The
big toes on the hind feet are opposable like human thumbs.
attacked and cornered the animal simulates death?"plays possum"?in a
most convincing manner. I'll never forget the first time I saw this act.
Although I knew that possums carried on that way. I was fooled. We had shaken
it out of a tree and it had collapsed. Its mouth hung partly open and its lips
were lax. The body was absolutely limp and when we poked it with a stick there
was no sign of life. We waited a long time but finally went away. When we came
back the possum was gone.
This doesn't mean
that the possum will swoon every time you say "Boo!" These fainting
spells are unpredictable. Often a possum will snarl, hiss, drool or try its
best to run away without passing out at all. There seems to be some question as
to whether it actually plays dead or is so overtaken by panic that it keels
over in a coma. In either event scientists have found that when a possum puts
on its act the heart rate slows down and it can stay passed out for as long as