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Posts Tagged ‘Opossum Society of the United States’

BY BRADFORD McKEE

Credit: Courtesy Museum of Walking/Angela Ellsworth.

Postcommodity, Repellent Fence, 2015. Image courtesy Museum of Walking/Angela Ellsworth.

From the upcoming February 2017 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

Instead of a sensible and humane overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws to deal with current realities, we are apparently going to get a wall between the United States and Mexico. It was among the most outlandish promises of the Trump campaign, if only one of its rank xenophobic turns: a gigantic blockade stretching from the Pacific Ocean, through the Sonoran Desert, and down the Rio Grande River to the Gulf of Mexico, with fear as its mortar. During the first week of the new Republican-led Congress, the House Republican Policy Committee chair, Rep. Luke Messer of Indiana, told the Washington Post that legislators are looking for ways to begin work on such a wall under existing law and with American (not Mexican) money. The existing law Messer means is the Secure Fence Act of 2006, signed by President George W. Bush, which called for 700 miles of actual fencing and a “virtual fence” of beefed-up surveillance along the Mexico border. That work remains incomplete. Barriers block less than half of the 1,954 miles of international boundary. Theoretically, a resumption of building could begin to lock it all up later this spring.

The human effects of this simplistic idea will be mixed. A big wall will stop some population flow, but hardly all of it, and it will kill informal cross border commerce. Ecologically, though, it is likely to be a catastrophe. It will fragment habitat on a huge scale in one of the most biologically diverse parts of North America—the Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas alone is said to have (more…)

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BY CONSTANCE CASEY

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The opposum is the only marsupial native to North America.

From the January 2015 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

Opossums, animals that can eat almost anything, are increasingly joining their fellow omnivores at the suburban garbage can buffet. Opossums are shy, shambling creatures—the opposite of aggressive—but an opossum on its nocturnal foraging rounds often elicits a scream of disgust or fear. People tend to see them as ugly and vicious because their tails are bare and their narrow snouts are full of sharp teeth.

An opossum’s tail is ratlike, bald, and scaly. But to think of them as large rats or naked-tailed squirrels is wrong. Opossums, commonly known as possums, are not rodents; they are marsupials. The fact is that they’re North America’s only pouch-bearing animals. (Marsupium is “pouch” in Latin.) The world’s most famous marsupials, kangaroos and koalas, are Australian and cute. (Possums Down Under are in a different family, the Phalangeridae, and have appealing, furry tails.)

The western hemisphere has about 100 opossum species, all in the family Didelphidae. Of these, only one, the Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana), lives in North America. When the land bridge linking South and North America formed three million years ago, some opossums trudged north. By the 1600s the creature that would be the Virginia opossum had traveled up to the Virginia colony. There, Captain John Smith of Jamestown observed, “an opassum hath an head like a Swine and a taile like a Rat….” (He derived the name “opassum” from an Algonquin word.) Smith correctly observed that the animal carried its young in a pouch.

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