This Thanksgiving evening we spotted a Possum outside the kitchen window. Coming from Britain I had no idea they were once eaten, and that President Taft was served Possum as part of the Whitehouse Thanksgiving feast in 1909.
I did know that they are not possums at all (found in Australia) but Opossums. Both are Marsupials but from very different groups. There are about a hundred species of Opossums but only one in the United States – the Virginia Opossum but known simply as Possum. Wikipedia tells me that the word opossum was derived from the Virginia Algonquian language meaning “white dog” or “white beast”.
It appears that the Virginia Opossum was introduced to the Western States during the Depression, probably for food. I am not in the least bit tempted to eat a Possum but they are fascinating animals.
I know many people think them a nuisance but their biology is remarkable. They are unusually disease resistant and of course may ‘play possum’ when seriously frightened. They can go into a coma-like state for up to four hours. The Thanksgiving Possum, however, did not seem at all concerned!
The Thanksgiving Possum captured with an Iphone (R.York)