Our nightly visitors for the past year have been possums. Excuse me -- opossums.
Possums without the "o" are phalangeriformes. (I know, it's hard to pronounce.) They are arboreal marsupials and are native to Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, Tasmania and the Solomon Islands. They might be related to kangaroos.
It's opossums (with the "o") who live in North and South America. They're part of the Didelphimorphia (another funny word) order of marsupials. The Virginia Opossum is the only opossum group found in the United States and Canada, although they also extend south to Central America.
The name "opossum" seems to have originated from the Proto-Algonquian native American tribe. The original word (something like "wa-pa-themwa") could mean "white dog" or "dog-like beast." Early American colonists described them as "head like a swine, tail like a rat, and the bigness of a cat."
Somehow wa-pa-themwa morphed into opossum but many folks simply call them "possum."
There are approximately 103 kinds of opossums in the world, ranging from the pygmy opossum to the domestic cat-sized Virginia Opossum.
As the old Santa Fe Trail ran from Missouri through Kansas to New Mexico, our property seems to be in the path of the Old Opossum Trail. Where it starts and ends, I don't know, but those critters like our cat food!
The "dog-like-beast" I trapped early this morning was the 13th opossum we caught, and today is Friday. Therefore, I've named it "Friday, the 13th."
Opossums prefer wooded areas and many live in hollow trees or stumps. But they'll accept abandoned dens of other animals, rock crevices and wood piles. And since humans have invaded the forests, opossums have adapted to living under houses and sheds. Homeowners consider them pests as they often cause damage to property, lawns and gardens.
They may grow as long as 40 inches from head to tail and weigh between 8.8 and 13.2 pounds, but the largest one on record lived in Missouri and weighed 16 pounds and 2.6 ounces!
Opossums are omnivores and scavengers. They'll eat almost anything, including garbage scraps and dead animals. That's why they get in trouble with homeowners who find their garbage bins overturned. These nosy marsupials also get themselves killed on highways by investigating roadkill and by crossing the street without looking both ways.
They also eat grass, leaves, fruit, nuts, insects, rodents, birds and snakes. Occasionally, they go after chickens and five years ago our Buff Orpington rooster killed an opossum that was attacking the hens.
Opossums have many predators, including large owls, hawks, wolves, coyotes, snakes, bobcats, foxes and even dogs. If surprised while on the ground, the critter may act like it's dead. You've probably heard the phrase "playing possum." They typically live up to four years in the wild but may live up to eight years in captivity.
Opossum was once enjoyed as food in the southern United States where "possum hunting" was a popular fall and winter sport. Some folks reported that they taste like dark game meat; others compared the taste to lamb or even duck. Some early American colonists said it tastes like a pig.
Yes, you can eat opossum. However, you need to take extra care in the way you cook them as they can be a vessel for a whole host of germs and bacteria. But you will never find opossum on my table -- just in my trap. I catch them and let them go in the forest.
When I was told that opossums carry diseases, I looked it up and found that they can carry leptospirosis, tuberculosis, relapsing fever, tularemia, spotted fever, toxoplasmosis, coccidiosis, trichomoniasis and Chagas disease. (You might have to look up some of those words.)
But there's something worse than messing with opossums and getting bad diseases and that's ignoring God and disobeying Him.
Life is full of challenges, misunderstandings and emotional pitfalls. The Bible teaches that if we pay attention to the Lord, He will help us make correct decisions in all aspects of life and teach us how to relate to others. His most important concern is how we relate to Him, and our eternal future depends on this relationship.
John 3:16 sums up the New Testament and reveals that God wants us in heaven with Him. We don't know how long we'll live on earth but, if we choose to honor and live for the Lord now, we'll have a very long forever in heaven with God.
I hope to see you there.
S. Eugene Linzey is author, speaker and mentor. Send comments and questions to [email protected]. Visit his web site at www.genelinzey.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.