You don't have to understand the world. You just have to find your own way around in it. - Albert Einstein

Thursday, 3 May 2012

the Truth about Possums

Recently I posted this short post introducing my local resident possum when I actually thought to get my camera out while he was conveniently positioned in a good viewing area.

In trying to answer Ruthie's question in the comments - are they friendly? - I got a bit carried away for the confines of a comments box and thought that a post on the subject was in order, particularly for the edification of international readers.

And, if I'm doing another post, I'll want fresh photos for it. So last night I went outside and followed the sound of the possum. I couldn't actually see it, I just held the camera over my head, pointed in the direction of the noise and let the flash do the rest. Out of several random shots I captured these two images.

I'm sorry, dear reader, but I do not have good news. The short answer to the question - are they friendly? - is no, they're not really.

They are not shy, but brazen and shameless and completely confident in their inherent superiority over humans. They are not deliberately aggressive or malicious, but they are so single-minded and determined in their efforts to find food, or territory, or whatever it is that's important to possums, that they can be very destructive and even dangerous. If one gets a mind to get into your house, you've got a real problem. They will eat everything edible in a garden that you want to grow, and leave the weeds and the lawn alone, so they don't even earn their keep like a good goat or a wallaby.

In my experience, everyone who has lived in an area where they have to deal with possums ends up coming to the conclusion that they are absolute mongrel bastards. And that's the polite version.

Oh! I hear you gasp. But they're so CUTE... how could you say such a thing?

I, too, was once innocent to the Ways of the Possum. Once, when I was young and naive and city-bred, I attempted to defend the honour of a possum who made a go for our food-box while camping. My protests failed to move the sentiments of my bush-wise, local human companion, and the possum rewarded my efforts by running up to me later in the night and biting my toe. True story!

Some people wonder why we would put up with such a menace. This little bugger here certainly does his share of driving the neighbours to distraction, keeping people awake all night, leading to next-day grumpiness and resentment. Sometimes it seems he's a little tyrant holding all the humans hostage to their domestic comforts. But what can you do? You can't shoot them.

No, really, you can't. It's illegal. If it weren't, I'm sure the life expectancies of local possums around here would suddenly plummet. But as native animals, they enjoy legal rights far greater than we humans. And, upon reflection of the ethics and morals of this dilemma, I do come to the conclusion that they were here first. This was their place first - I'm just renting a house here.

While many native Australian animals have become extinct or endangered as a result of the impact of European settlement, the common Brushtail Possum is not in this position. Changes made to the landscape by settlers have created more habitat for possums and they have thrived. Sometimes the opposite is the problem - overpopulation can occur in specific regions, causing some nasty destruction of the natural environment.

Still, for all the problems they cause, there's no denying that they are indeed very cute. Even for people who are not feeling very friendly toward possums, the sight of them is captivating. Their fur coat is hard-wearing and designed for blending in with tree trunks, but close up you see it is incredibly soft and shiny. Their delicate little features are so fine and endearing, and belie the ferocity they are capable of. It melts your heart - as long as they keep their mouths shut. The noise they make is another story.

It's absolutely indescribable. I know, because I have failed for many years to give any attempt at a description in words of the sound a possum makes. And it's not like I have the technology to go out and record the audio and upload it to my blog... when it eventually occurred to me (yep, I'm a bit slow on the uptake with this whole google thing) that someone else had probably done exactly that already. It only took me a few seconds to find this link to a YouTube audio clip and this link to more information about possums. I've often thought that the first white settlers here must have been absolutely terrified of the noises that came from the bush in the dark of night. It's much more impressive than anything artificially engineered at the Hollywood studios making horror films.

So, while a possum is fine with any amount of water - their furs make excellent raincoats - PLEASE DON'T FEED THE POSSUMS AFTER MIDNIGHT. Or before midnight, for that matter, either. You will end up with gremlins.


  1. wow, that's not my experience of possums at all. Perhaps it's becuase we are out in the bush so they aren't so aggressive over teritory. We have a big boy that comes inside for snacks, he is not scared of us at all. Occasionally we may get a little nip on the fingers but that's mostly because they can't see very well.
    In spring and summer we also get the mumma's in with their babies and it's always a joy to see the little guys clinging on for dear life.
    I guess because we are in their turf I like to see us as having a symbiotic relationship. I guess because I see them as members of this planet as much as you or I.

    I LOL'd at the gremlins reference :D

  2. Firstly, Y_T, I would hazard a guess that you reside in a more northerly, warmer climate than those to which I am more accustomed. Apparently, possums generally get bigger, heavier, furrier, darker-coloured, meaner, smarter and more aggressive the colder their climate is.
    Also, I would encourage you to do some research into the matter of feeding wild possums. It's considered detrimental to the possum, its population and the balance of the ecosystem as well as to the humans. Here are just a few links.