Wednesday, May 10, 2017

History of the Tribe of Possum

So I looked into the natural history of my marsupial buddies today, and here’s what I found. Once upon a time, 70 million years ago or thereabouts, these little guys emerged from the Cretaceous North American underbrush. The proto-possums are called Peradectids, at least, that’s the latest research from the University of Florida and those sooooooutherners  should know a thing or two about possums, after all.

Proto-possum was sharing his territory with the dinosaur, so things were probably pretty tough. Then, just 5 million years or so later—the mere blink of an eye in geologic time—that famous or infamous asteroid struck, putting a sudden, dramatic end to the long reign of dino domination. Possums survived.

What is more, they used the new space they’d acquired, after emerging from various fallout shelters—probably the gigantic ribcages of their now deceased neighbors—and, in a fit of exuberance, split into several families. Eating insects, fruit and eggs and other people’s leftovers, they trudged down Mexico way and over the land bridge into South America, where they continued to evolve. At this time, South America, Antarctica and Australia were still cuddled up together on a big comfy couch of floating basalt, and so from here, the proto-marsupials marched on to find new homes.

The three continents finally parted company and drifted away from one another. Eventually isolated in Australia, the marsupial line would proliferate into many strange and wonderful shapes. Sadly, most of these exotic critters are now extinct or on their way out, like the legendary Tasmanian Devil, who is really—cartoon aside—quite a fetching little beast.   

Meanwhile, in North America, all the possums went extinct during a time when North and South America were no longer connected. Therefore, for an epoch or two, North America was deprived of this a vital member of Nature’s clean-up crew.   Fortunately, for fans, like me, a short three million years ago, the land bridge between North and South America rose again—or the ocean receded, locked up in the polar ice caps or whatever—and possums returned to their ancient point of origin once again.

Now, while you are laughing at possum—mashed by the side of road—no doubt intentionally driven over by some bully of an ape with delusions of grandeur because he sits in a machine with an internal combustion engine—well, think again. The “dawn of man” --and guess what, guys? There wouldn’t have been any “dawn” at all without woman, too—this “dawn” began a mere 3 million years ago, about the time possum was returning from his successful South American road trip.

Now, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit—true proto-primates of our line came on the scene some 55 million years ago—but essentially, possum is, was and has been, possum. You’d recognize a Peradectid as a possum, but you sure as heck wouldn’t recognize that little shrew type critter with the forward facing eyes hanging in a tree as a member of your family.

There’s something to be said for plain and simple, for humility, for making do, and the will to survive, which this primitive, nearly defenseless little beast has in spades . And that’s why I love Possums.