Remarkable discovery in the snow!
Remarkable discovery in the snow!
I get opossums on the trail camera fairly regularly, and because I find them somewhat less interesting than other animals, I usually don’t post their photos on here.
This one, however, is kind of interesting because it has the features of a very mature individual. Now, keep in mind that Virginia opossums don’t live very long, even though they are about the size of a domestic cat. In captivity, their record longevity is a measly four years.
But this individual is at least on its second year. The frostbitten ears suggest that it has survived more than couple of very hard freezes.
As opossums mature, they get a lumpy head profile. When they are younger, they have a more collie- or borzoi-like head, but as they get up in years, this starts to change.
This opossum is the most primitive mammal north of the Rio Grande, and when I say this, I don’t mean that it’s primitive because it’s a marsupial. It’s actually a primitive marsupial, meaning that it looks very much like the earliest mammals that gave rise to all marsupials. Indeed, it is so primitive that the similarities between New World opossums and the West Indian solenodons are pretty striking. The two species of solenodon retain many primitive features of the ancestral placental mammals, and it would make sense that the primitive opossums and primitive solenodons would look somewhat similar to each other.
Beyond their taxonomy, there aren’t really that many amazing things about opossums. They don’t have very complex behavior. There are claims of them having amazing intelligence that one can find online, but these clams are not born out in reality.
The thing is, you don’t have to be too smart if you can eat just about anything and reproduce by having dozens of offspring every year.
And even though they are primitive, natural selection has still worked its ways on their kind, but it’s just not change them as much as it has us, coyotes, or red kangaroos.
This old opossum is a survivor. It looks like it even has a bit of frost bite on the ears from last winter.
This photo comes from Mammals of America by Harold Elmer Anthony. This book was published in 1917, so it unfortunately refers to the opossum hunter as a “Southern Darkey.”
Of course, African Americans living the South often hunted opossums for meat, and they relied upon good treeing dogs to assist them in their hunts.
This dog appears to be of a farm shepherd type, but just as often, they would rely upon their curs or feists to tree the marsupials, which they usually captured alive. To get the opossum out of the tree, they would shake the tree to make it fall out.
The opossum would then be brought home in a burlap sack and then fed table scraps for several weeks to make the flesh taste better. Opossums are known carrion eaters, and it was commonly believed that the carrion diet tainted the meat.
After a few weeks of being fed table scraps, they would slaughter the opossum.
Quolls are small marsupial carnivores that fill a niche somewhat similar to that of martens in the northern hemisphere.
They are dasyurids and are close relatives of the Tasmanian devil and the thylacine.
There are four species of quoll in Australia and two in New Guinea.
One of the Australian quolls is the Eastern quoll (Dasyurus viverrinus). It is currently found only in Tasmania, but its range once included much of the southeastern Australian mainland.
It comes in two distinct morphs.
And a black:
Now, remember when I said these animal were extinct on the Australian mainland?
Well, that’s not exactly accurate.
The last “native” mainland Eastern quoll died in Sydney in 1963. These little marsupials, though called “native cats,” are thought to have suffered greatly when foxes were introduced to Australia. Foxes readily kill them, and because Tasmania has been fox free up until very recently. it was thought that this was why the Eastern quoll has been able to thrive there.
However, there appears to be a population of Eastern quolls living in the state of Victoria. Victoria is within the Eastern quoll’s historical range on the mainland.
These quolls are most likely not a relict population of native Victorian Eastern quolls. They most likely are escapees from Mount Rothwell Conservation and Research Centre near Melbourne. These quolls are breeding in large enclosures at the facility, and it is possible that they get a few escapees every now and then.
But that’s what’s left of the Eastern quoll on the Australian mainland, but there do continue to be lots of sightings of them.
Maybe one day we’ll find a genuine relict population of Eastern quolls on the mainland.
I certainly hope so.
I don’t think the fox can ever be eliminated in Australia.
That genie was let out of the bottle long ago, and it can never be put back.
But fox and cat free areas can be created. Even encouraging dingo populations to expand might play an important role in controlling fox and cat numbers. Dingoes will kill cats and foxes, and that could mean that the quolls and other small native fauna might thrive in dingo-rich habitats.
Australia’s native fauna was essentially doomed the second Europeans encountered the continent.
But parts of the doom can be mitigated.
I hope we can mitigate some of the issues have that have really harmed the quoll of two colors.
Such a bad fate shouldn’t befall such a ridiculously cute and undeniably fascinating animal.