Partial to Home: Of opossums and other critters we love


Birney Imes



Near the end of the podcast, Gail from West Point called to tell about taking a can of potted meat re-labeled as opossum road kill with her to the Air Force Academy.


Gail's gas-station souvenir (allegedly scraped up from Highway 82) had the desired effect during room inspections at the Academy. Intrigued, the inspecting officer spent his allotted time in Gail's room trying to make sense of the cadet's memento of home instead of critiquing her housekeeping.


The next caller, and the last on this edition of "Creature Comforts" devoted to opossums, Carmen from Columbus, revealed her hometown is informally known as Possum Town.



The local Choctaw so named the fledgling settlement on the banks of the Tombigbee in deference to Spirus Roach, who in the early 1800s ran a tavern atop River Hill.


As it happened, the unfortunate tavern keeper's prominent proboscis resembled that of North America's only native marsupial, the opossum.


Podcasts, as you may know, are audio programs you can download and listen to on your phone. Like TiVo of the early 2000s, podcast listeners can download episodes of their favorite radio programs and listen long after they've aired.


Podcasts are available on every conceivable subject. According to the website, the podcast ecosystem as of April 2020 numbers 980,000.


I've turned to them as refuge from the dispiriting all-coronavirus-all-the-time radio newscasts.


They provide wonderful accompaniment to the monotony of weed pulling. With the virus and its shelter-in-place edicts, a lot of us, it seems, are doing more weed pulling.


Apparently, business is blooming for area nurseries.


Karla Entz of the Busy Bee in Macon told me a couple weeks ago she's never seen anything like it. Debbie Lawrence's Bloomer's was teeming with would-be gardeners several weekends ago. Same for Walton's, formerly owned by Alan and Susan Smith, at the corner of 18th Avenue and North Seventh Street.


Mississippi Public Radio has a wonderful roster of locally produced programs available as podcasts.


Most of these programs rely on callers with questions for content. Among my favorites are Felder Rushing's Gestalt Gardener and Southern Remedy with Dr. Jimmy Stewart of UMMC.


Then there's "Creature Comforts," hosted by Libby Hartfield, retired director of the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science and veterinarian Dr. Troy Majure.


Judging from callers to the show, when it comes to stories about animals, Mississippians are a bottomless well.


Usually the show features a guest, someone whose specialty is, say, freshwater mussels, or crawfish, eagles, butterflies, turkeys, snapping turtles or frogs. Columbus native, paleontologist George Phillips, is a frequent guest.


Two recent episodes featured an opossum expert and a fellow who bills himself as "The Critter Catcher."


Did you know the opossum's signature defense strategy, i.e. playing opossum, is an involuntary response? Or that for beavers, running water is the human equivalent of a fingernail on a chalkboard?


Linda from Starkville called wanting advice on moving skunks. By the way, skunks don't see well or like loud noises.


"You have to do something special to get skunks to spray," said the Critter Catcher, who also goes by Mike McDowell.


Apparently skunks are apt to tunnel under houses. McDowell told the story of a homeowner's unhappy discovery that his newly added bathroom was just above the lair of a tunneling skunk. No singing in that shower.


"They are not bad animals," said the Critter Catcher. "I love skunks."


You keeping that bird feeder full? Apparently, our winged friends aren't always the only ones enjoying your largesse.


"The No. 1 cause for unwanted wildlife is the birdfeeder," McDowell said. "The bird feeder feeds everything: mice, rats, raccoon, deer. Everything eats birdseed."


He advises putting a tarp or trashcan under the feeder to catch spillage and then removing it at the end of the day.


Ah, but the Didelphis virginiana, or as we know him, the opossum.


· A mother opossum is capable of giving birth to 50 offspring, though she's only equipped to raise 13 of them. Coincidentally an opossum has 50 teeth.


· A baby opossum, like a kangaroo, is called a joey.


· Opossums eat ticks.


· A litter of opossums is a passel.


· An opossum is unaffected by the bite of a venomous snake.


Amazing creatures, they are. Possum Town, has a nice ring to it, don't you think, Joey?




Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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