Playing Possum, Perhaps

Last year, when it rained steadily for a few days, I had lots of snails on, under, and around my patio wall, trying not to drown. This year, when it rained in January, there were no snails.

I commented on it to my roommate and wondered aloud if perhaps the gardeners were using some sort of fertilizer or herbicide that had killed them off. I missed my snails!

When I mentioned the absence of snails to my sister she suggested that a more likely cause of the missing snails is the presence of opossums, known locally as possums. I have never seen a possum but that is probably because they are nocturnal and I am not.

Young Possum via Wikimedia Commons

When I looked up the topic of possums on Wikipedia I discovered that they are not native to the Pacific coast but were introduced during the Great Depression, probably as a source of food. I suspect that possums were welcomed into my condo complex by the people who like to leave food out for feral cats. They may not realize that in addition to feeding stray felines they are also feeding cat-sized marsupials. Or, they may not care.

The possums in North America play an important role in pest control and sanitation. They eat almost anything, including trash and roadkill, and because they need a lot of calcium they even eat the bones of the creatures they find. In order to accomplish this, they have fifty teeth!

Among the many things they eat are snails, and so it would make sense to conclude that they are the reason that my patio snails disappeared. Today, however, I saw three snails! It has been raining all day and these three snails surfaced. I was pleased to see that some have survived, but I hope the possums didn’t see them. I’d like to keep a few around as my own garden pets.



  1. I can give you a bit more background on possums and the Brickyard. Daughter and I would swim a couple of mornings a week and one day we saw a possum on the sidewalk between pool and fountain. It appeared to be dead and I saw a man who lived there also and asked his opinion. He wasn’t sure either (they do ‘play possum’, right?) but Michael’s brother happened to be visiting and both men decided to dispose of the expired possum. At another time there was a tree sort of at the corner of the entrance to the fountain circle, a tree on the left side as one faced the fountain. Nighttimes possums liked to climb into that tree and sort of lay flat right above the sidewalk. Quite unnerving to glance up and look into a possum face! Momma possums would carry their little ones upon their backs and travel along the wall closest to Keyes and also cross over and amble down the south driveway amidst the bushes along with their brood. We had some sort of pine tree outside our living room window and one possum claimed it as his/hers and slept there for hours every day! I think possums are amazing and I always looked for them. We have possums here also and they walk along the sound wall somehow managing to carry 8 or more babies with them…adorable. Snails had become a frightful nuisance just prior to when we moved. They munched on all my patio plants. I am rather ambivalent regarding their possible reappearance. However, Nature rules!

  2. That is really interesting, Mary Beth. Thank you. I have never seen a possum and now I am definitely going to start looking for them. At the same time, I don’t want to lose all my snails!

  3. Anne, this posting reminded me of a movie I watched last week: The Biggest Little Farm. Here’s a link to the IMDB description: You will never view snails in the same way again! I think you’ll like the movie too. It’s set in California, and it’s about a couple’s efforts to farm using natural methods. You can find it on Netflix.

  4. I had no idea opossums were not native to California! Since I have lived in the midwest all of my life, I have seen a few. When I was a single parent, I walked past our trash can in the backyard and was very startled to see an opossum at the bottom of it! I was bewildered at how to get it out, then finally realized I should just tip the trash can on its side. Eventually, it wandered out and trundled away.
    In the last couple of months, I saw one under our car we have parked in the driveway. At night time, of course. (I go out at night once a week, but prefer to be home at nightfall as well.)
    I do appreciate the opossums’ contribution to our biome, but don’t particularly need to interact with them.

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