Sunday, 1 June 2008

Dogs and possums

I often joke about Penny keeping our garden clear of possums. Sure, when she goes out last thing at night to relieve herself, she does scamper about checking for arboreal visitors, but she's not as fierce as I make out. We have two types of possums living in our trees - ringtails, my favorite, and brushtails, that I don't actually find so attractive, even though I was told by a wildlife expert that the brushtail is more likely to be friendly.

I've been thinking about how lucky we are, actually, to share our space with these native mammals. If they were rare, instead of common, we'd be hiking out into the bush to find them. One of our richest men, James Packer, has plans to develop a ski resort in the mountains but he's also faced with the problem of living with possums. The proposed site is home to an endangered species of pigmy possum, small enough to fit into the palm of your hand. There's an article about this situation in The Age today and I just love the picture of a possum sitting one someone's finger.

It's the last day of autumn today and I've read that both our local species of possums breed in autumn or winter, so I'll have to keep an eye out for the babies. I'm always concerned that one of them will fall off the mother's back while she's racing through the treetops. It's never happened in the normal course of events, but one extra hot day last summer (over 44 degrees, or about 110 Fahrenheit), I found baby ringtails lying exhausted and dehydrated around the garden. The mother was dead and we greatly feared Penny had grabbed the mother, either before or after her death. The wildlife expert that I took the first babies to said that these possums have either no rib-cage (that seems strange, so I might have misheard) or a minimal one, and if a dog grabs them their lungs are crushed. It was very upsetting.

We think the family of possums just couldn't take the extreme heat. This species builds an open kind of nest of twigs and leaves, called a drey, high up in trees, and they probably got the full blast of the unusually hot weather.

I'd love to include a photo of these interesting mammals but I don't think my photographic skills are up to it, yet, so here is a link to a gallery of pictures.

13 comments:

Bibi said...

Hi, Parlance! Thanks for dropping by my blog and seeing Voja, the newsman. I don't get to blog-hop too often these days; super-busy, but will try to do better. Penny looks "cool" in your banner---Bibi doesn't enjoy the water.

The Aphasia Decoder.... said...

Thanks for the possum lesson. That was interesting. We have possums here in my yard (Michigan USA) but they look a little different. Like this one: http://www.molemeninc.com/Opossum.html

Thanks for sharing your experience with having an 'approved digging area' for Penny. I like what you said about digging together. That kind of give us an excuse to be a kid again, doesn't it. LOL

Jean Levi's mom

Slavenka said...

They look cute to me .

parlance said...

Regarding Bibi and the water, I think we'll have to agree that there are water-loving dogs and there are those that won't even think about getting their paws wet.

parlance said...

Jean, the opossom looks like it lives on the ground? I've read that our possums are named after yours, even though they are not related very closely. Interesting that yours are related to kangaroos, though!

parlance said...

Slavenka, they are really cute! Visitors to Melbourne go on night tours to feed the ones in our parks that are tame.

chasingsquirrelswithrusty said...

Your possums are much cuter than my possums! Ours look like bug rats, naked tail and all.

I hope something can be done about the pigmy possums!

parlance said...

Rusty, our possums are really, really cute! The trouble is, they often live in our walls or our roofs. They rumble about on the rooftops for what seems like hours, sometimes. They eat all the best fruit from our trees, sometimes even stripping off every bud before it can turn into fruit. The completely killed one of my apple trees a couple of years ago in a bad drought. But I still love them...most of the time. We sort of say to ourselves, we don't mind them as long as they leave us SOME fruit.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick pedantic note: the opossum is a marsupial, not a mammal.

parlance said...

Hi, anonymous!
You really had me scratching my head over the marsupial/mammal question. My first reaction was, yes, that's right, I'd better change it.
But then I thought I remembered that marsupials are a sub-group of mammals because they feed their babies milk. I checked it with a quick Google search and at http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/mammal/marsupial/marsupial.html it did say that.
I actually wish I had said marsupial, because that would have been a more exact description.

Anonymous said...

do I need to worry about my dog killing a baby possum

parlance said...

Hi, anonymous. I'm not sure whether you mean whether it's illegal for your dog to kill a possum, and as far as I know the answer to that would be, yes, it would be illegal to encourage your dog to do so, because our native animals are protected by law.

If you mean, should you be worried that your dog would want to kill baby possums, then I'd advise you to take care in the breeding season for possums, which as far as I know, is now. Penny would kill a baby possum, I fear, perhaps just because she might pick it up to see what it is, and the touch of her mouth would probably kill it, because babies are so vulnerable.

parlance said...
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