Another reason to love opossums

About the size of a large house cat, the Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) is North America’s only marsupial, a mammal that carries and nurses its young in a pouch. One of Earth’s oldest surviving mammals, opossums (or simply possums), have been around for at least 65 million years, first appearing in North America about the time dinosaurs went extinct.

Most people don’t know it, but possums are the unsung heroes in the fight against Lyme Disease, eating over 95 percent of the ticks that land on them during their meanderings. Researchers estimate the average possum kills thousands of ticks every week. They also eat snails, slugs, and beetles, so they’re a welcome addition to the garden. They’ll also catch and eat unwelcome pests like mice, rats, fire ants, cockroaches, and even roadkill, making them an important part of Nature’s cleanup crew.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about possums is that they’re immune to snake venom, and actually kill and eat snakes, even venomous ones like rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths. Peptide in the Virginia opossum’s blood has been found to be an effective and inexpensive antivenom against bites from the western diamondback rattlesnake in the U.S. and the Russell viper in India.

So the next time you see a possum, walk away. They are far more beneficial as scavengers than harmful for any damage they might do. Give Nature a break!

Photo courtesy Amazingfacts.com

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Those amazing woodpeckers!

Woodpeckers are my favorite family of birds, and I count myself fortunate that there are many different species in my neighborhood. They are year-round residents, quite vocal, and show up regularly at my suet and seed feeders in the winter.

Most woodpeckers excavate new nest cavities every year to raise their young. Once they’re done raising the current year’s brood, their nesting hole can become a home for many other animals. Pileated woodpeckers (pictured below) are the largest woodpeckers in North America, and their size and strong bills make them especially good at building homes for their families, and many other animals. A pileated woodpecker’s nest cavity is likely to later be home to owls, wood ducks, flying squirrels, tree squirrels, weasels, and raccoons.

Courtesy of For Fox Sake Wildlife Rescue

I’m fortunate that a pair of pileateds visits my feeders every morning in the winter. Where I lived previously, they preferred the safety of the deep woods and showed no interest in the bird feeders. The woodpeckers here, on the other hand, have become habituated to coming to feeders due to the number of people who feed them. They learn, and teach their young, that even if it’s a bit scary, bird feeders offer good stuff!

Coyote love lasts a lifetime

Only about  5 percent of mammal species are truly monogamous. Among members of the canine family, most— including foxes, wolves, and jackals— form strong pair bonds, but are often observed “cheating” on the side. Not so with the coyote. It is one of the only mammal species known to form truly faithful, monogamous pair bonds that last a lifetime.

Photo courtesy of For Fox Sake Wildlife Rescue

Coyotes normally find a mate in late adolescence, when youngsters first set out on their own away from their parents. Once mated, the pair will work side by side to raise their young each year, and may raise as many as ten litters in their lifetime together.

Just like humans, coyotes grieve for their lost mates and may never recover from the loss. A widowed coyote with pups is very unlikely to be able to raise the pups alone. Without a partner to help defend the home, the widowed coyote may lose its den, kills, and hunting grounds to rivals. They are condemned to live a life alone, as an adult coyote will rarely be able to find a new mate.

Please be kind to your wild neighbors. They have loved ones who need them!

No fireworks for me

My dogs have never experienced fireworks. I’ve been living in the country since 2010, which is the year I got Callie, and Noah didn’t join our family until 2014. We never went to watch fireworks, mostly because it was a drive to get there, and, at our age, we’d already seen our share of fireworks displays.

This year, I chose to stay home as well. Callie would be nervous, but I knew she would be fine. Noah, on the other hand, gets the shakes and runs from room to room (kind of like how I imagine a wild dog might react) anytime there’s a loud noise, like a gun shot or a car backfiring. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the fireworks, wondering what was happening at home.

As it turned out, the fireworks only lasted about 20 minutes. Callie cuddled next to me. Noah shuddered with each boom and paced from room to room, looking for an escape, but eventually settled down on the sofa with Callie and me. I guess he figured since he was still alive, maybe it was going to be okay.

Sadly, there will be a lot of pets that will be terrified. They don’t understand loud noises and will look for an escape, and if they get out, they will run, many far enough that they can’t find their way back.

So I stayed home to make sure my dogs were safe. I’d rather stay home than come home and discover that one or both dogs were gone, or worse, something bad happened to them.

I can only imagine how terrifying the loud noises and lights must be to wildlife. Every year, countless animals die when fireworks scare nursing mothers away from their young and frighten birds into windows and traffic.

Yet, the 4th of July and fireworks have become inseparable in our culture as a way to celebrate the founding of our wonderful country. If you do go to watch fireworks, here are some tips to keep your pets safe. Have a happy and safe Independence Day!