Apicultura Wiki

An opossum was made to represent the class of natural lusus naturae for they are certainly the most singular, inexplicable little animals that live. In their creation; Dame Nature seems to have shown a willingness, if necessary, to be ridiculous, just for the sake of introducing a new fashion. We will not, however, go into particulars, for we might infringe upon the details of "breeding," and thereby "o'erstep the modesty of nature."

One of the peculiarities of the opossum that attracts to it general attention, is the singular pouch they have under the belly, in which their young are carried before their complete development, and also into which they retreat when alarmed by the approach of danger.

This particular organ contains in its interior, ten or twelve teats, to which the young, after what seems a premature birth, are attached, and where they hang for about fifty days, then drop off, and commence a more active state of existence.

This animal evidently varies in size in different latitudes. In Louisiana they grow quite large compared with those inhabiting more northern climates.

The opossum ranges in length from twelve to fifteen inches, the tail is about the same extent. The body is covered with a rough coating of white, gray, and brown hair, so intermixed and rough, that it makes the animal look as if it had been wet and then drawn through a coalhole or ash-heap. The feet, the ears, and the snout are naked.

The organs of sense and motion in this little animal seem to be exceedingly dull. Their eyes are prominent, hanging like black beads out of their sockets, and appear to be perfectly destitute of lids, with a pupil similar to those of a cat, which shows that they are suited to midnight depredations.

The nostrils of the opossum are evidently well developed, and upon the smell almost exclusively, is it dependent for its preservation. The ears look as if they were pieces of dark or soft kid skin, rolled up and fastened in their proper places. The mouth is exceedingly large and unmeaning, and ornamented with innumerable sharp teeth, yet there is very little strength in the jaws. The paws or hands of the animal are the seat of its most delicate sensibility, and in their construction are developed some of the most wonderful displays of the ingenuity of an All-wise Providence, to overcome the evident inferiority of the other parts of the animal's construction.

The opossum makes a burrow in the ground, generally found near habitations. In the day time it sleeps, and prowls at night. The moon in its brilliancy seems to dazzle it, for under the bright rays of the queen of night it is often knocked on the head by the Negro hunter without apparently perceiving it has an enemy near.

The habits of the opossum generally resemble those of the "coon" and fox, though they are, as might be supposed from our imperfect description, infinitely less intelligent in defending themselves against the attack of an enemy. Knock an opossum on the head or any part of the body, with a weapon of any kind, small or great, and if he makes any resistance at all, he will endeavor to bite the weapon, instead of the agent using it. The opossum is, in fact, a harmless little creature, and seems to belong to some peace society, the members of which have agreed to act toward the world as the boy promised to do with the bull-dog, "If you will let me alone, I won't trouble you."

Put the animal in a critical situation, and he will resort to stratagem instead of force to elude his pursuers; for if he finds escape impossible, he will feign himself dead in advance of giving you an opportunity to carry out your destructive intentions toward him; or when you think you have destroyed him, he will watch his opportunity, and unexpectedly recovering his breath, will make his escape.

This trick of the little animal has given rise to a proverb of much meaning among those acquainted with his habits, entitled, "playing 'possum," and probably it is as good an illustration of certain deceptive actions of life as can be well imagined.

Take an opossum in good health, corner him up until escape is impossible, then give him a gentle tap on the body that would hardly crush a mosquito, and he will straighten out, and be, according to all indications, perfectly dead. In this situation you may thump him, cut his flesh, and half skin him; not a muscle will move; his eyes arc glazed and covered with dust, for he has no eyelids to close over them. You may even worry him with a dog, and satisfy yourself that he is really defunct; then leave him quiet a moment, and he will draw a thin film from his eyes, and, if not interfered with, be among the missing.

An Irishman, meeting with one of these little animals in a public road, was thrown into admiration at its appearance, and on being asked why he did not bring, the "thing" home with him, said he:

"On sight, I popped him with my shillelah; he died off immediately, and I thrust the spalpeen into my coat pocket. 'There's a dinner, ony how,' I said to myself; and scarcely had I made the observation, than he commenced devouring me, biting through my breeches, the Lord preserve me! I took him out of my pocket, and gave him another tap on the head that would have kilt an Orangeman at Donnybrook Fair: 'Take that for a finis, you desateful crater,' said I, slinging him upon my back. Well murther, if he didn't have me by the sate of honor in no time. 'Och, ye 'Merica cat, ye, I'll bate the sivin lives out of ye!' and at him I wint till the bones of his body cracked, and he was clean kilt. Then catching him by the tail, for fear of accidents, if he didn't turn round and give my thumb a pinch, I'm no Irishman. 'Off wid ye!' I hallooed with a shout, 'for some ill-mannered ghost of the divil, with a rat's tail: and if I throubles the likes of ye again, may I ride backwards at my own funeral!'"

There is one other striking characteristic about the opossum, which, we presume, Shakespeare had a prophetic vision of, when he wrote that celebrated sentence, "Thereby hangs a tail;" for this important appendage, next to its "playing 'possum," is most extraordinary. This tail is long, black, and destitute of hair, and although it will not enable its possessor, like the kangaroo, in the language of the showman, "to jump fifteen feet upwards and forty downwards," still it is of great importance in climbing trees, and supporting the animal when watching for its prey.

By this tail the 'possum suspends itself for hours to a swinging limb of a tree, either for amusement or for the purpose of sleeping which last he will do while thus "hung up," as soundly as if slipping his hold did not depend upon his own will. This "tail hold" is so firm, that shooting the animal will not cause him to let go, even if you blow his head off; on the contrary, he will remain hung up, until the birds of prey and the elements have scattered his carcass to the winds; and yet the tail will remain an object of unconquered attachment to its last object of circumlocuting embrace.

An old backwoods "Boanerges" of our acquaintance, who occasionally threw down his lap-stone and awl, and went through the country to stir up the people to look after the "consarns of their latter end," enforced the necessity of perseverance in good works, by comparing a true Christian to an opossum up a tall sapling, in a strong wind. Said he "My brethren, that's your situation exactly; the world, the flesh, and the devil, compose the wind that is trying to blow you off the gospel tree. But don't let go of it; hold on as a 'possum would in a hurricane. If the fore legs of : your passions get loose, hold on by your hind legs of conscientiousness; and if they let go, hold on eternally by your tail, which is the promise that the saints shall persevere unto the end."

As an animal of sport, the opossum is of course of au inferior character; the Negroes, however, look upon the creature as the most perfect of game, and are much astonished that the fox and deer should be preferred; and the hilarity with which they pursue the sport of 'possum hunting, far excels the enthusiasm of the most inveterate follower after nobler beasts.

Fine moonlight nights are generally chosen on such occasions; three or four negroes, armed with a couple of axes, and accompanied by a cur dog, who understands his business will sally out for 'possum hunting, and nothing can be more joyous, than their loud laugh and coarse joke on these midnight hunts. The dog scents the animals, for they are numerous, and "barks up the right tree." A torch made of light wood or pitch pine, is soon diffusing a brilliant light, and the axe is struck into the tree containing the game, - let it be a big tree or a small one, it matters not; the growth of a century, or of a few years only, yields to the "forerunner of civilization," and comes to the ground.

While this is going on the dog keeps his eye on the 'possum, barking all the while with the greatest animation. In the mean time, the negroes, as they relieve each other at the work of chopping, make night vocal with laughter and songs, and on such occasions particularly, will you hear "Sitting on a Rail," cavatina fashion, from voices that would command ten thousand a year from any opera manager on the Continent.

The tree begins to totter; the motion is new to the 'possum, and as it descends, the little animal instinctively climbs to the highest limb. Crash, and off he goes to the ground, and not unfrequently into the very jaws of the dog; if this is not the case, a short steeple chase on foot ensues; 'possum finds escape impossible, - feigns himself dead, - falls into the wrong hands, and is at once, really killed.

Such is opossum hunting among the negroes, a sport in which more hard labor is got through with in a few hours than will be performed by the same individuals throughout the whole of the next day. Sometimes two or three opossums are killed, - and if a negro is proud of a yellow vest, a sky-blue stock, and red inexpressibles; with a dead opossum in his possession, he is sublimated.

Among gentlemen, we have seen one occasionally who amuses himself with bringing down an opossum with a rifle, and we have met one who has given the hunt a character, and really reduced it to a science. We were expressing some surprise at the kind manner with which our friend spoke of opossum hunting, and we were disposed to laugh at his taste; we were told very gravely that we were in the presence of a proficient in 'possum hunting, and if we desired, we should have a specimen at sundown, and by the dignity of the hunt we would be compelled to admit that there were a great many ways of doing the same thing. The proposition came from our host, and we at once consented.

The night was dark, and I noticed this, and spoke of it; and the reply was, that such a night only, would answer the purpose. A half hour's ride brought us into the depths of the forest alla in the extra darkness of its deep recesses we were piloted by a stout negro bearing a torch. Our dogs - for there were two of them - soon gave notice that we were in the vicinity of an opossum, and finally, directed by their noses-for eyes were of no use - they opened loud and strong, and satisfied us that an opossum was over our heads.

At this moment I was completely puzzled to know how we were to get at the animal, I must confess; we had no axe, and a millstone intervening between the oppossum and our eyes, could not have shut it out of sight more effectually than did the surrounding darkness, which seemed to be growing "thicker" every moment, by contrast with the glaring torch.

The negro who accompanied us, without ceremony kindled a large fire about twenty feet from the base of the tree in which our game was lodged, and as soon as it was well kindled and burning merrily, my companion seated himself about forty feet from the base of the tree, bringing the trunk of it directly between himself and the fire. I took a seat by his side by request, and waited patiently to see what would come next. The fire continued to burn each moment more brightly, and the tree that intervened between us and it became more prominent, and its dark outline became more and more distinct, until the most minute branch and leaf was perfectly visible.

"Now," said mine host, "we will have the opossum. Do you see that large knotty-looking substance on that big limb to the right? It looks suspicious; we will speak to it."

The sharp report of the rifle followed, and the negro that accompanied us picked up a large piece of bark that fell rattling to the ground. The rifle was reloaded, and another suspicious-looking protuberance was fired at, and another knot was shattered. Again was the rifle reloaded, and the tree more carefully examined. Hardly had its shrill report awakened the echoes of the forest for the third time, before a grunt that would have done honor to a stuck pig was heard, and the solid fat body of the 'possum fell at our feet. the negro picked it up, relit his torch, and we proceeded homeward.

When reseated by a comfortable fire, we were asked our opinion by our host of "a white man's 'possum hunt;" we expressed our unqualified approbation of the whole affair, although we thought at first that any improvement on the negro's mode of doing the business would be "painting the lily!"

As an article of food the opossum is considered by many a very great luxury; the dish, it is said, tastes not unlike roast pig. We should have liked very much to have heard "Elia's" description of a dish of it; he found sentiment and poetry in a pig, - where would he have soared to over a dish of 'possum?

In cooking the "varmint," the Indians suspend it on a stick by its tail, and in this position they let it roast before the fire; this mode does not destroy a sort of oiliness, which makes it to a cultivated taste coarse and unpalatable.

The negroes, on the contrary - and, by the way, they are all amateurs in the cooking art - when cooking for themselves, do much better. They bury the body up with sweet potatoes, and as the meat roasts, thus confined, the succulent vegetables draw out all objectionable tastes, and render the opossum "one of the greatest delicacies in the world." At least, so say a crowd of respectable witnesses. We profess to have no experience in the matter, not yet having learned to sing with enthusiasm the common negro melody of

"Possum fat and 'tater.'"