Opossum and Snake Go to School

Tyree the Red Rat Snake (also called Corn Snake) and Sean the Virginia Opossum starred at the Wildlife station at the 49th Annual 5th Grade Conservation Tour in September.

Every now and then someone tells us about the Virginia Opossum that has lived under
their porch for years. If there is one thing that we learned while volunteering with
Nature’s Nursery Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and during the years following is that
these individuals are probably not the same Virginia Opossum. While getting to know
educational ambassadors for this fascinating species, we have discovered that they are
nomadic creatures, moving from place to place to eat whatever they find in their path and
sleeping in the most convenient dry spot when they need to. Combined with the fact that
Virginia Opossums only live for two or (maybe, if we’re lucky) three years, the animal that
people see around their porch from year to year is actually a parade of several of North
America’s only member of the marsupial class of mammals.

Did you notice that I said “if we’re lucky”? There are a lot of reasons that it’s a great thing
to have Virginia Opossums around. These free-ranging omnivores consume a varied diet
that includes plant material, grasses and leaves, grains, fruits, carrion, snails, slugs, worms,
insects, rats, mice, snakes, amphibians, eggs, crayfish, and fish. They are nature’s garbage
collectors. We would be up to our eyeballs in offal without these animals coming and
going. We would also be dealing with more biting, disease-transmitting ticks. Research on
captive Virginia Opossums at Illinois’ Eureka College estimates that they eat, on average,
5,500 larval ticks per week. That’s nearly 95% of ticks that cross their path.

The biggest and best reason that we are lucky to have Virginia Opossums is that we just are…lucky,
that is. They have been around for a very long time—at least 70 million years—as one of
Earth’s oldest surviving mammals. Because they eat almost everything, they are disease-resistant. In fact, they will do just about anything to avoid direct contact. To appear
threatening, a Virginia Opossum will first bare its 50 teeth, snap its jaw, hiss, drool, poo
and stand its fur on end to look bigger. If this does not work, the Virginia opossum is
noted for feigning death (passing out) in response to extreme fear.

Here on The Quarry Farm, we are so lucky to have known a few non-releasable Virginia
Opossums. Sean is the current onsite educational ambassador of his kind. Sean was born
without eyes so can’t properly protect himself from predators. He is also agreeable to
human contact, which is why we have a State of Ohio education permit that allows us
to house him and introduce him to people who want to know more about him and the
world around all of us.

A masked advance

Cedar Waxwing

For a warm minute, Northwest Ohioans were treated to spectacular fall color, said to be a result of a wet spring and dry fall. A droughty spring can cause tree branches to seal themselves off from new leaves. They’ll drop before they’ve had a chance to develop an autumn foliate aurora.

The minute has all but passed. The ghost of toilet-paper streamers haunt leafless branches. Who is going to chuck those golden streamers over the tallest tree after waiting in line to buy even the roughest roll of sandpaper not six months ago?

Golden Crowned Kinglet

Brown Creeper

Moth in Leaves

But there are other signs of autumn ticking off the clock. Last week’s storms rained newly-shorn corn husks. The cottonwoods along Cranberry Run are decorated with turkey vultures. They spread their six-foot wingspans and lift off for sunnier skies when I try to take a photo. Winter birds skitter up and down bare trees and Eastern Fox Squirrels fatten themselves on Osage Oranges. Moths blend with browning leaves on the woodland floor. The latter doesn’t bode well for wild winter stores since the green fruits are the rodents’ least favorite food source. Bring forth your tired, your weary, your fallen acorns because the wild ones are going to need them.

Eastern Fox Squirrel

There is running water in Cranberry Run. After last week’s rain, small puddles became a smooth pool of stained glass in shades of leaf-litter orange, red and yellow. After work, I walked down to where my grandpa once forded the stream and was sad to see that the stream wasn’t flowing. But it was, trickling over the most elevated riffle. What I didn’t realize was that Riley Creek was rising with heavy rains from the south, so fast that the Run’s current was flowing upstream.

Everything is flowing backwards these days. We can’t civilly agree (or disagree) on what to display in our yards, on our bumpers, or what to wear (or not.) What we can agree on is that cold air makes wearing a face mask easier. As Saturday evening’s snow fell fast and thick enough to leave a visible dusting, I didn’t mind so much when Quinn the Fox stashed her toys under my blanketed body, effectively tucking me in for a chilly night.

(Thanks to Deb Weston for sharing her photos. Her subjects cooperated. Maybe it’s because she is such an avid birder here on The Quarry Farm that she’s become one of the flock.)