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5 reasons the opossum should be Appalachia’s official mascot

5 reasons the opossum should be Appalachia’s official mascot

Baby Opposum by stanley45 via Canva

Like mountain folk, there’s more to this woodland creature than meets the eye.

Thanks to its toothy snarl, hairless tail, and bulging eyes, the opossum is never going to win a beauty contest, but if this critter were to vie for the position of Appalachia’s official mascot, I reckon it would win big. Here’s why. 

Feisty OpoSsum by KenCanning via Canva

 1. Opossums got grit.   

Most mountain people I know can white-knuckle their way through just about anything, from push-mowing the back forty to talking politics with ol’ Mr. Jones from church.

Opossums are equally tenacious. According to Sheldon Owen, a wildlife specialist with West Virginia University Extension, these critters can withstand bites from copperheads, rattlesnakes, and other sinister serpents thanks to a unique peptide in their blood. This compound is so effective at neutralizing snake venom that scientists are researching its utility as an antivenom for humans. So, who knows, one day an opossum might save your snake-poisoned butt.

Baby Opossum SHOWS OFF ITS OPPoSABLE THUMB by JasonOndreicka via Canva

 2. opossumS could play the banjo.  

Okay, I’ve never seen an opossum strum strings, but if you equipped one with a Gibson and an attentive audience, they’d likely put Earl Scruggs to shame.

You see, unlike most animals, opossums have opposable thumbs on each hind foot. This thumb (also called a hallux) works with their prehensile tail, allowing them to climb trees; hold objects; and, in theory, pluck a foot-tappin’ ditty. 


Perssimmon Tree by prawit_simmatun via Canva

 3. They’re creative culinarians.  

My meemaw was famous for whipping up finger-licking feasts even when the cupboards were empty. She once made Sunday dinner for my daddy and his 11 siblings using a stick of butter, a cup of cornmeal, and a package of expired chicken livers.

I think the opossum would make meemaw proud because they too make do with what they’ve got — whether that’s cat food left outside; the flesh of an already dead animal; or persimmons, which they love so much they’ll do a little circular dance when they spot a new fruiting persimmon tree. Heck, if they could reach the table, I’m betting they’d even chow on meemaw’s expired chicken livers. 

OpoSsum on a fence by galinast via Canva

 4. They appreciate slow living.   

Us mountain people aren’t keen on rushing. It’s not that we’re lazy, we just think there’s more to life than chasing the clock. So we savor our vowels, drive well under the speed limit, and spend half an hour saying goodbye.

Opossums take their time, too. When threatened or late for a potluck, they can manage a seven-mile-per-hour sprint — about half as fast as a raccoon and way slower than a bunny. But typically, these creatures clumsily mosey about, covering less than a mile per hour.      

OposSum in a tea cup (COMPOSITE IMAGE) by DAPA Images and Anton Ostapenko via Canva

5. They’re about as misunderstood as us hillbillies.   

Appalachian folk sure are a misunderstood lot. We drop our g’s and occasionally drink too much moonshine, but that doesn’t mean we’re stupid or out to murder hapless city slickers, as we’re often portrayed.

Turns out, the world has pretty rotten stereotypes about our opossum friends too, thinking they’re dirty and disease-ridden. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Much like cats, opossums spend a lot of time grooming. Plus, their body temperatures are extremely low, which protects them from many viruses, like rabies.

It’s also a common misconception that opossums are aggressive. They’re actually quite docile, said Sheldon, the wildlife specialist. A few may hiss or show their pearly whites when approached by a human, but like good country folk, most will just saunter right by you. So don’t be surprised if one day one of these wee marsupials asks how your mama and ‘em’s doing before scuttling back to the holler from whence it came.      

Lauren Stepp is a lifestyle journalist from the mountains of North Carolina. She writes about everything from fifth-generation apple farmers to mixed-media artists, publishing her work in magazines across the Southeast. In her spare time, Lauren mountain bikes, reads gritty southern fiction, and drops her g's.