[Page 201] The home of the animal is generally in a crevice or cave between rocks, and its young, two or three in number, are brought forth in May.
In removing the skin, it may be ripped up the belly, or taken off whole, as described for the fox.
The opossum is found more or less throughout nearly all the United States. In size it equals a large cat, the tail being about fifteen inches long, very flexible and covered with scales. The general color of the fur is grayish-white, slightly tinged with yellow, [Page 202] and the legs are of a brownish hue, which color also surrounds the eyes to some extent.
The fur is comparatively soft and wooly, and thickly sprinkled with long hairs, white at the base and brown at the tips.
The nature and habits of the animal are very interesting. Its nest is made in some sheltered hollow in an old fallen or live tree, or beneath overhanging roots or rocks, and composed of moss and dead leaves. The young are produced in several litters during the year, and when born are transferred by the mother to a pouch situated in the lower front portion of her body. Here they remain and are nourished by the parent until they are five weeks old, at which time they emerge and travel with their mother, and their little ring tails do them good service in holding fast to their guardian. It is an amusing sight to see a family of young ’possums thus linked together, and so “attached to each other.”
The opossum is a voracious and destructive animal, prowling about during the hours of darkness and prying into every nook and corner in hope of finding something that may satisfy the cravings of imperious hunger. Rats, mice, nuts, berries, birds, insects and eggs are all devoured by this animal; and when not content with these he does not hesitate to insinuate himself into the poultry yard, and make a meal on the fowls and young chickens. His fondness for fruit and Indian corn often leads him to commit great havoc among plantations and fruit trees, and his appetite for the fruit of the persimmon tree is proverbial. While feeding on these fruits he frequently hangs by his tail, as seen in our illustration, gathering the persimmons with his fore paws and eating them while thus suspended. He is a most agile climber, and his tenacity and terminal resources in this direction are admirably depicted in that well known Methodist sermon, as follows: “An’ you may shake one foot loose, but ’tothers thar; an’ you may shake all his feet loose, but he laps his tail around the lim’ an’ he clings forever.”
He is an adept at feigning death, “playing ’possum” so skilfully as frequently to deceive an expert.
“’Possums” are hunted in the Southern States much after the manner of coons; and to the negroes a “’possum hunt” signifies most unbounded sport.”