I saw a scraggy little white dog today, and I said to Aina, “That dog used to be an opossum.”
OK, that was maybe just a teeny bit inaccurate. The dog had actual fur on its tail. It had a face like a dog, or at least more like a dog than an opossum. But dogs and opossums are not opposites. They’re just… like bats and birds. Morphologically superficially similar, phylogenetically distinct, and differing – starkly, on average – on the cuteness scale.
It’s amusing to see descriptions of opossums by early English invaders of North America. In 1612, John Smith wrote, “An Opassom hath an head like a Swine, and a taile like a Rat, and is of the bignes of a Cat.” This is basically accurate, except for “an head like a Swine.” I don’t know what kind of swine he had, but in my world a possum is a sketchy rat-looking beast from front to back. I think if I had to describe an opossum it would be “Like a big grizzled old rat that just ran a marathon and is trying to decide whether to die or kill someone.” Continue reading