Gerald the Opossum 

Published 12:23 pm Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

If you spend enough time outdoors, you are going to be surprised by an animal. Snakes are the first creature that comes to mind. I am never prepared to see a snake, and every time one surprises me on a rock or hiking trail my vertical jump increases, as well as the tone of my scream. 

Raccoons also have a history of surprising me. If you have never thrown a bag of trash into a dumpster and had a raccoon jump out at you, you haven’t lived. 

Opossums have haunted me for years with their toothy snarl and angry hiss, and I never know for sure if they are dead or playing dead.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

A common nickname for an opossum is a “grinner.” Whoever bestowed this nickname on this critter must be used to ugly smiles. Calling a opossum’s snarl a “grin” is like calling Peyton Manning a good actor. Whenever Peyton is in a commercial, he is there because of his football prowess, not acting ability. 

When an opossum grins and shows its teeth, it’s not because it is happy. That opossum is making sure you know it has sharp teeth. I can only assume that “Big Opossum” was part of this PR campaign to call it a “grinner” not a “snarler.”

Not only does Big Opossum try to lure us to love this toothy critter with a name change, but it also perpetuates bad science. Anytime someone starts to bad mouth opossums, they are always met with the argument that, “They eat ticks.” It turns out that laboratory opossums will eat ticks, but wild possums seem to eat everything but ticks. In nineteen studies that examined stomach contents of opossums, there was no evidence of ticks. 

This weekend I was in southwest Virginia visiting family. Friday evening, I was about to take the dogs out when ambling down the stairs to the back porch was an opossum. I was proud of my initial reaction. Instead of sounding like a scared eight year old girl as usual, I had enough courage to sound like a scared twelve year old girl. The opossum posted up on the landing, snarled and hissed. 

I went to find a big stick to herd it out of the yard when my family came out to see what the fuss was all about. Instead of screams, I heard “Aww! Hey little guy! Let’s name it!”

By the time I found a ten foot long stick and made it back to the porch, the opossum was already named Gerald and the kids were asking to keep it. I told them absolutely not and started to gently poke the opossum. 

Gerald grabbed the stick with his front paws and hissed in defiance. I left him the stick and ran inside. As I looked back through the window on the shut door, I think I saw him change his snarl to a grin to celebrate his victory.