So a few nights ago, I put Maggie in the back yard without even bothering to turn the porch light on. There was enough light from the moon, and the street lamp, and the neighbor's security light across the alley to more or less make my way around the yard without tripping over anything. So I let her out and followed behind her. She immediately spotted something underneath the lilacs. With tail wagging, she was dancing around whatever it was, trying to get in for a good sniff. I figured it was a mouse or a rabbit--we are overrun with rabbits in the 'hood, bunnies who are so fearless they sometimes quietly sit and watch us as we walk by within feet of them.
I sighed and went back inside to flip on the light switch, which is through the door and six steps up. When I came back out, Maggie was gone. I called her and called her, but there was no response.
Now, I was a little bit worried. I didn't smell skunk when we came outside, but that didn't mean much, since my sinuses are completely stuffed this week from allergies and I have to practically be on top of something before I can smell it.
It was now deathly quiet. No cars, no wind rustling through the trees, and I couldn't even hear Maggie's tags jingling. There was only one place she could be, behind the garage, where the light from the porch doesn't reach.
So I carefully made my way back there, calling her the whole time, and found her at the far side of the garage, at the gate to the alley, ears perked and staring straight up at this:
The opossum was only a foot or so above her head. It was as still and silent as Maggie was.
"Jeezus, Maggie, get over here," I said. I'm such a city girl. Although I would spot them fairly regularly in the wee hours of the morning in the back alleys of Chicago, my general knowledge of 'possums amounted to "they hang from their tails or something, don't they?" I had certainly never been this close to one.
Thank God, Maggie actually came when I called her, her tail wagging and a big cheesy dog grin on her face. I hustled her back inside and of course got Ted as I grabbed the camera. When we went back out, the 'possum was still there, still as stone. That's apparently what they do when they feel threatened--er--play possum, that is. Thanks to Wikipedia, I later learned this about them:
When threatened or harmed, they will "play possum," mimicking the appearance and smell of a sick or dead animal. The lips are drawn back, teeth are bared, saliva foams around the mouth, and a foul-smelling fluid is secreted from the anal glands. The physiological response is involuntary, rather than a conscious act. Their stiff, curled form can be prodded, turned over, and even carried away. The animal will regain consciousness after a period of minutes or hours and escape. Many injured opossums have been killed by well-meaning people who find a catatonic animal and assume the worst.The article went on to say that they're nocturnal, solitary, and nomadic, and not really a problem unless cornered. And no, the adults do not hang from their tails, although the wee ones will, briefly, do so. Bummer.
(Of course, now I'm wondering what new visitors Google will bring to my page because I used "anal glands". Um, twice.)
So, because it was playing possum, I actually got to step up within a few feet of it to take its picture. (In the photo above I was crouched down so I could get a picture from Maggie's perspective.)
"Hey beautiful," I said softly. "Let me just snap this and you can go on your merry way."
Ted laughed from behind me. "I doubt they get called beautiful very often."
Probably not. This little guy was drooling and he had snot hanging from his nose. But heck, that's just his nature. And he did have such luxurious-looking fur. I ran around to the alley side to get this picture:
Of course, now more than ever, Mom does not want me taking Maggie out after dark.