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‘O’ is for ‘opossum’. That it the proper common name for the familiar North American critter who lives in or near many home gardens where fruit, vegetables or pet food are available. When a similar critter was found in Australia, it was given the same name by someone who did not spell it properly, hence ‘possum’. It is marsupial, and therefore related to many familiar Australian critters like koalas, kangaroos and the most terrifying of all, wallabies. Well, if the North American name can be applied to an Australian critter, it only makes sense that the Australian name can be applied to the North American critter. Thought technically and correctly ‘opossum’, many of us know them simply as ‘possum’, without the preceding ‘O’.

Opossums have a vast native range in North America. They can live anywhere that does not get too cold for them. They have likely always lived in the Santa Clara Valley to a limited degree. There was not much for large populations of opossums to eat just a few centuries ago.

As orchards grew and displaced native vegetation, there was more fruit that they could eat in season, but still not so much else during the rest of the year to sustain large populations of opossums. It was not easy for opossums to make homes at the modest home sites isolated by large orchards with only seasonal vegetation on the ground.

As orchards were developed into suburban neighborhoods, more habitat was created for opossums. They lived in and around homes, woodpiles, sheds, and areas landscaped with permanent vegetation. Vegetable gardens and more varieties of fruit trees in home gardens provided food throughout the year. There were citrus, avocados, guavas, persimmons and loquats, as well as ornamental berries like pyracantha and cotoneaster. Pet food and household trash were abundant. While San Jose was still a small town, it was inhabited by more opossums than could have been sustained in the entire Santa Clara Valley only a century earlier.

Those old suburban neighborhoods are now even more urban, and their landscapes are much more overgrown than they were when the homes were new. Rats, snails, slugs, grubs and large insects that live in the landscapes are fair game for opossums. Aging and deteriorating homes are easier for opossums to get access to, so finding shelter is easier than it has ever been. With more than a million people just in San Jose, there is no shortage of trash.

All through history, people have been moving in on wildlife. However, what we do not often hear about is the wildlife that moves in on humans.

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33 thoughts on “O

  1. Our possums are very cute creatures except the ones that were exported to NZ, and because of the abundance of food supply over there, seem to be much bigger, more plentiful and a real menace to gardeners and fruit growers. The most likely place to see a possum in NZ is squashed on the side of the road, but there are many more in the bush. You can buy beautiful possum jumpers in NZ.

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    1. Greasy squashed opossums were very common in Beverly Hills (in the Los Angeles region) in the 1980s because so many of the homes had such overgrown landscapes. There were notably less common in the outer neighborhoods with less mature landscapes. They are now common in most places in the region, although not quite as common as they were back then. The same happened in San Jose, where squashed possums were much more common in the older neighborhoods, but less common in the outer suburban areas until the landscapes got old.

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      1. I think they have gone out of fashion now, they were big in the 60’s when my friend made a living in NZ catching and skinning them. They use 1080 poison now to get rid of them in NZ

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      1. DON’T! It is a VERY bad and offensive show. To be brief, Kenny is a character who dies violently in every episode, but then returns for the next episode, and in more recent history, within the same episode, and often a few times.

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    1. Where this picture was taken, there are raccoons, but not much more of that sort of wildlife. It is too far out into an urban area. It is funny how there was less wildlife when the area was still suburban, but more now that it is full blown urban.

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    1. In my former neighborhood, they took snails, grubs and wild onions; generally things that I did not want anyway. They supposedly ate baby rats, but I could not see them actually doing it. The one in the picture takes developing apricots, cherries, apples, pears as well as vegetables.

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  2. I for one am perfectly happy to have opossums around. They eat rats and ticks and help control lime disease. There was a time when we had skunks living under the house and we put out traps that kept catching opossums. Eventually we got the skunks. Some people (like my spouse) think opossums are ugly and creepy but I consider them just good neighbors.

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    1. I liked them in my former neighborhood because of the rats and snails, and because the neighbors never seemed to see them. However, the one in the picture takes so much developing fruit from small trees. Skunks are good for snails too, but we trap them at work because we do not want them to bother the guests.

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  3. Our garden is visited by opossums and raccoons and I enjoy watching them from a distance, especially now that we’ve an electric fence around the koi pond formerly known as the raccoon sushi bar.

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  4. We had one as a pet as children…. “Buzzy,” the possum. I can’t say he ever got too friendly, never a ‘lap possum’ but was benign and we could feed him. He eventually heard the call of the wild and left us for good.

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      1. Most who read it would agree. I wrote another about a skunk named ‘Pepe’, and will eventually write about the other dysfunctional wildlife that lived in my former home. I will be writing about Halston Junior on Sunday. It has a happy ending.

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