Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Animals In Our Urban Homestead update: vertebrates!

First, not in our yard, but a block from here, we've seen a pair of snakes sunning on some leaves that had accumulated between the base of a stoplight and a fence. They slithered under the stoplight when Kid Khalila and I approached. I suppose the people driving by all day long have no idea what they're missing. Hooray for bikes. More recently--Sharqi saw a snake slithering into the mulberry bush right here out by the street! It was almost caught on film while she was making a li'l video about our chaos garden.

Second, in the alley that runs down the middle of the next block over, I was riding around looking for Khalila's missing bike, and saw a turtle (double-take, yes, a turtle) turtling along the alley. It withdrew into its shell when I stopped to look at it. I went back to look for it later but didn't see it. I don't know how much water it would need (not sure what kind it was) but it looked like there was plenty of alley foliage for it to hide in and munch on.

Third. We have cats who sometimes like to stay outside overnight. So we've been leaving food & water out for them so they don't wake us up way early in the morning. The food attracted a reticent stray male cat (Groniger Whitefoot) whom we're trying to catch so we can have his sprayer "fixed" so to speak. (Our cat door had a funny smell on it one day.)

But one night I looked out and saw a young opossum chowing on the cat food. It was so cute! In that ugly, possum kinda way. So I stopped leaving cat food out back and moved it to the front porch, like right where a lot of the cats hang out, and where people come and go all day. Then just the other night before bed I turned on the porch light to see if any cats wanted in one last time, and there was a young opossum--now larger--chowing on the cat food. It sort of hesitantly ambled away in that lazy possum way. Our calico kitten (the cuddle-lion) was relaxing on the porch swing while possum helped hirself to the cat food.

So, no more cat food out overnight.

So, I looked up possums, and found there are a couple societies online dedicated to educating us about these mostly harmless critters & helping hurt or orphaned ones. Apparently, leaving pet food out is one way to attract them. (D'ohh!) But, I don't think I want to try to repel or otherwise get rid of our new friend. They like to eat "pests" like slugs, snails, cockroaches, mice, and rats, as well as carrion.

As The National Opossum Society informs us:
  • Opossums regularly consume insects, snails, worms, rats, mice, and carrion. They can actually help keep your yard free of these pests.
  • They are far less of a health risk to you or your children or pets than nearly any other wild animal. By eliminating the opossums, you may create a niche that will be filled by a less desirable species. Rabies and viral diseases (e.g., distemper) are practically unheard of in the opossum. [low body temperature]
  • They are exceptionally non-aggressive and non-destructive. They will not dig up your lawn, chew wood or wires, or create burrows. They do not "attack" anything that is not a food source, and is not threatening them. If you keep prey animals such as birds, rodents, or rabbits, you must keep them secure in their enclosures from any wild animal. Adult cats and adult opossums generally get along together, or ignore one another. Dogs are a serious threat to opossums, but not vice versa.
  • Just because you see an opossum around does not mean that they are the ones causing your trouble. Opossums are much less secretive than animals that cause damage, and you are more likely to see them, when it is actually another animal doing the deed. It is very unusual for them to be the culprits of any damage to property or lawns.
So I'm becoming a fan of these mammal cousins of ours. Maybe it should be our totem animal here at the odhouse. They are the only North American marsupial! They have opposable thumbs on their feet! Their tails are prehensile, for help in climbing and carrying, but they do not hang from their tails as portrayed in the TV cartoons I recall from my childhood.

They're said to be the size of a cat, but I'm sure I've seen some pretty big ones in the past. Maybe they were pregnant, or well-fed suburban possums. This youngish one on our porch was about the size of a year-old cat. I don't care if it helps itself to our compost (rotting onions ... mmmm ...) but to encourage it to eat pests I'll keep the pet food inside. They're also said to be nomadic, so I expect it'll move along and find new food, water, and nesting sites someday. BTW, swimming pools can be a danger if an opossum tries to drink, falls in, and cannot climb out.

Nomadic, omnivorous foragers, opposable thumbs, non-aggressive ... sounds like an ideal post-civilliesed vagabond tribe to me!


Anonymous said...

Perhaps one could make a flag of some sort with a (o)possum on it representing this new vagabond lifestyle you suggest. eh? eh?

Oh. I finished the second booklet if you're interested. Will send it along ASAP.

Baraka B

werebrock said...

yay for possums! i didn't realize they had such multifaceted coolness