In Memoriam: Virginia Opossum
One night last week, I took a friend for a drive on the parkway. We were looking for wildlife.
An hour into the ride and a short night hike later, we had observed turkeys, deer, a beaver and salamanders and heard the howling of coyotes and mating calls of millions of spring peeper frogs.
On our way back into town, and to my great joy, we spotted an opossum crossing the road. I slowed, and we passed within a foot of it. I told my friend to log the sighting in her nature journal.
“A possum doesn’t count,” she said.
Before I even had the chance to respond, I glanced into my rearview mirror and witnessed a speeding truck take the life of that poor, discredited opossum.
In Memoriam: Virginia Opossum (March 2011-April 2013)
Virginia Opossum passed away last Thursday night. She was last seen scavenging for carrion along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Fortunately, scavenging and carrion were two of her most favorite things.
Virginia lived a long life. She was born along with six siblings in March 2011 to a single mother. At the time of her birth, she was but the size of a navy bean, but still strong enough to climb into her mother’s pouch.
Virginia, like all opossums, was a marsupial.
At two months of age, she left the comfort of her mother’s pouch, but was not quite ready to begin life on her own. Instead, she and her siblings rode on their mother’s back for a month; observing her actions and learning to live the life of an opossum.
As an adult, Virginia was quite striking in appearance. She had a triangular head, long pointed nose and very sharp teeth. Luxurious gray fur covered her everywhere but on her ears, feet and tail.
Her most noted features were her hairless prehensile tail and the opposable thumbs (hallux) on her hind feet. Both of these features helped her to balance while climbing steep branches.
Unlike popular belief, however, she rarely hung from her tail, and she especially never slept while hanging.
What is quite ironic about Virginia’s death is that she often “played dead” during her life. In the presence of a predator, she would roll over, become stiff and drool, and her breathing would become slow and shallow. This coma-like state could last up to four hours.
She enjoyed eating food of all kinds. Plants, animals, garbage, fruits, insects, other small mammals and road-kill all made the menu.
Virginia is survived by several offspring and one brother. She will be remembered as a beloved mother and a talented scavenger.
If you have a question concerning flora and fauna, please email (firstname.lastname@example.org) All of your questions will be answered. One or two will be featured next week. See you on the trails!
Amy Renfranz is a certified naturalist through the Yellowstone Association Institute and a certified environmental educator in the state of North Carolina.