STRAIGHT CREEK VALLEY FARM
Greg and I met this beautiful baby opossum on our morning walk of May 6, 2006. He dashed
across the road ahead of us and then lay down in the field, curled up in a small ball, "playing
possum". His curiosity seemed to be too much for him though, and when I knelt down beside
him to take this picture, he looked up at me, nose twitching. His fur was wet from the morning
Opossums are North America's only marsupial mammals, named after the female's external
abdominal pouch, called the marsupium. After the bean sized babies are born, they crawl
through the mother's fur to this pouch, where they suckle and grow. As with most mammals,
the number of offspring can vary from birth to birth, but generally opossums will give birth
from between 6 to 25 young, one to three times a year, usually between January and July.
No more than 13 young at a time can survive, however, because the mother only has 13
teats with which to nurse them. Each baby opossum, or joey, will latch onto a teat, and those
who do not secure a place in their mother’s pouch will starve and die.
As you can see in the photo above, opossum are covered with short silvery fur interspersed
with longer course white-tipped hairs. Each of the opossum's feet has five toes equipped with
sharp claws, good for gripping bark as they climb trees, except for the inner toe of the hind
foot which has no claw and is opposable like a human thumb. This thumb-like toe enables
the opossum to hold securely onto tree branches. The opossum's hairless tail acts as a
balance bar and assists as they climb, but is also extremely susceptible to frost bite during
the winter, due to its hairlessness. Contrary to legend, even though the tail is prehensile,
opossum cannot hang from tree branches by their tails, although they can use their tails to
wrap around branches and secure their footing.
Opossums do not hibernate and their greatest challenge during the winter, especially in
colder climates, is simply to survive. Very often they will alter their nocturnal foraging habits
during cold weather, coming out during the day, when it is warmer, rather than at night. They
can often be found sheltering in basements and garages to escape the cold and the only
way to prevent their overnight stays is to make sure that all human habitat openings are fully
Fossil opossum remains have been found dating back 70 million years, making opossums
members of the Earth's oldest mammal family. How have possums managed to survive so
long? I have no doubt that it is due to their ability to avoid trouble. They are nocturnal,
except during the coldest parts of the winter, and are always on the move, spending no more
than two or three days in any one location. They try to avoid confrontation by relying on
their excellent hearing and sense of smell. Rather than confront an enemy, an opossum
would rather scurry off in the opposite direction.
But opossums are not fleet footed creatures, and when they are cornered and unable to flee,
their fear makes them go into an involuntary coma. Their bodies become stiff and their
mouths gape open in a stiff snarl, showing off their fifty sharply pointed teeth. (Opossum are
opportunistic omnivores, eating nuts, berries, insects, worms, frogs and whatever else they
can find or catch.) This fear induced coma can last anywhere from 40 minutes to 4 hours
and most predators, when confronted with an opossum in a coma, assume that it is dead,
and rather than eat what they assume to be carrion, loose interest and abandon their attack.
Thus arises the term "playing possum". The coma, however, is also the reason why so
many opossum are found lying dead along the side of the road. When frightened by an
approaching car, rather than scurry away, an opossum will often fall into this fear induced
coma, and if striken on the actual roadway, the results can be quite fatal. Very few opossum
actually live to adulthood and even if they do, their average life span is only one to two
So what did I learn on May 6th, 2006? I learned to have a whole new respect for this
fascinating, and what I believe to be, beautiful, gentle creature.
For additional information, visit NatureWorks and the The Wildlife Rescue League's articles
Greg and I met this bullfrog on our morning walk of July 7, 2006. He was sitting on the gravel
road beside the first field. I stroked his back and he just sat there, not moving. I thought he might
have been dead, but then all of a sudden he jumped. One kick of his legs and he was about six
feet down the road. This time, when I approached, he hopped off into the woods on the other side
of the road from the field.
Bullfrogs are found in most parts of North America and are the largest American frogs, some
growing to over eight inches long, but the fellow that we met was small, barely measuring three
inches from nose to bottom. Bullfrogs spend most of their lives in or near ponds and streams,
rarely travelling long distances on land. The frog that we met was less than one hundred feet
from Straight Creek. Female frogs lay as many as 20,000 eggs near the surface of the water
where the tadpoles can live and grow. I was surprised to learn that the tadpoles grow to be six
inches long and that the tadpole phase lasts two years, after which they morph into a frog that is
only two inches long. I think that the bullfrog that we met was likely a young one, who had recently
morphed out of his tadpole stage. I learned that he would grow slowly, taking several years to
reach an average seven inch length.
A bullfrog's diet is varied. They eat crayfish, worms, baby snakes and turtles, water bugs and
minnows, all of which are abundant at Straight Creek. Bullfrogs are in turn eaten by bass, painted
and snapping turtles, raccoons, owls, heron, hawk and eagle, all of which we have seen in the
creek valley. We claim one Great Blue Heron in particular, as one of our Straight Creek
neighbors. We see the bird almost daily, either flying up the valley or standing in the creek water
near the north edge of our property. I knew that it fished for minnows. Now I know that it looks for
frogs as well. I wonder if the bullfrog that we met on July 7th will grow to be eight inches long or
end up as a meal for some other Straight Creek creature. Greg reminded me that frog's legs can
be fine dining indeed.
I have grown to appreciate the
little birds that keep watch over
my garden. They perch by the
garden's edge and when they
see an edible bug they dart in
and snatch it up. I can always
find this particular bird right next
to the strawberry bed.
Straight Creek Valley Farm