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THE VIRGINIAN OPOSSUM.

Didelphus Opossum.

Although the opossum has long been known to European naturalists, many of its peculiarities are still but little understood. Enough, however, has been well ascertained of its habits to render this animal an object of great interest. There are several species, varying in size from four inches to twenty; and in colour, from a whitish grey to a dark brown. The Virginian opossum is, in general, of a whitish grey; the wool is of some length, fine, and, during the winter season, very thick. On the face it is of a smoky-white colour; the ears are thin, like the bat's, but smaller; the nose pointed; head long. It has two strong bristles over each eye, and a bunch under each ear; these, with the whiskers, appear to be of the same use to the animal as those of the cat. The tail is long, thick, and black; being covered with a smooth scaly skin, it somewhat resembles a snake. The teeth are numerous; and the hind-feet are actually rendered hands by short fleshy thumbs, which enable the creature to take firm hold of objects which no one would think it could grasp. The toes are furnished with strong sharp claws; the under part of the paws is covered with a delicate skin; the feet appear to be the seat of sensation.

An opossum, by means of its feet-hands, can cling to a silk handkerchief, climb up a silk dress, or raise himself to any desired height where he can meet with the slightest projection. Another curious peculiarity is its tail: by simply curling this at the extremity, the opossum sustains his weight, and depends from the branch of a tree. Hanging at full length, he gathers fruit, or seizes any prey within his reach; to regain his position on the branch, he has but to make a little stronger effort with the tail, and throw his body upwards at the same time.

But the most singular peculiarity is, that nature has furnished the female with a cradle for its young in the form of a pouch, which receives the young ones as soon as born, and in which they are carefully suckled by the mother until they can provide for themselves; and, even when old enough to leave this nursing-place, they always run there for shelter in the time of danger.

The mouth of the opossum is very wide when open, yet the animal does not drink by lapping like the dog, but by suction like the horse. When the female is approached, while the young are with her, the wideness of the mouth is rendered very remarkable. She drops the lower jaw, showing the whole of her formidable teeth, and uttering a kind of snarl, but does not snap until the hand or other object be brought close : if this be a stick, she seldom closes her mouth on it after the first or second time, but maintains the same gaping appearance, even when it is thrust into her mouth, If the young have attained any size, they will either show their signs of defence, take refuge in the pouch of the mother, or, clinging to various parts of her body, hide their faces in her long hair.

The opossum is a nocturnal animal, timid, and depending more on cunning than strength for its safety. Its movements are awkward when on the ground, and its walk slow and clumsy. When on the branches of trees, it moves with much greater ease and agility, and with perfect security from sudden gusts of wind: even were its weight sufficient to break the branch on which it may be resting, there is no danger of a fall to the earth, unless from the lowest branch, as it can catch certainly, and cling securely, to the smallest intervening twig, either with the hands or the point of its tail. It makes this flexible tail useful in suspending itself from a branch to rifle a bird's nest of eggs, or to gather fruit.

The food of the opossum varies much, according to circumstances. It preys upon birds, various small quadrupeds, insects and reptiles; sugarcanes, potatoes, and various roots. They commit sad havoc in poultry-yards; as, like the weazel, this animal is fonder of cutting the throats and sucking the blood of a number of victims than of satisfying his hunger by devouring one. Among the wild fruits the Persimmon {Diospyrus Virginiand) is a great favourite; and it is generally after this fruit has been in perfection that the opossum is killed for market by the country people; at that season it is very fat: this fat is very like that of a young pig. The American Indians spin the hair of the opossum, dye it red, and then weave it into girdles and other parts of their dress.

The hunting of the opossum is a favourite sport with the country people, who frequently, after the autumnal frosts have begun, go out with their dogs at night in pursuit of them. As soon as the opossum discovers the approach of its enemies, it lies perfectly close to the branch where it may be, or places itself snugly where two branches fork. The dogs soon announce the fact of its presence by their baying; and the hunter, ascending the tree, seeks for the branch on which the creature is hid, and shakes it until he causes it to relax its hold and cling to another branch. Here it is pursued, and the shaking is renewed with more violence, until the terrified creature allows itself to drop to the ground, where hunters and

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