Is the Virginia opossum the only marsupial native to North America?

yapok

The yapok or water opossum is a marsupial that ranges into Mexico and Central America.

Americans are an unusually insular sort of people. We fail at geography big time. Don’t ask the average American what the capital of Canada is.  Don’t tell tell us that Mexico City is the largest city on the continent.

“Because Mexico ain’t on our continent!”

That attitude even affects how we view nature.

When I was a little boy, I accepted without any question that North America’s only marsupial is the Virginia opossum.

It seems this claim is so widely-accepted that it is usually mentioned within the first sentence of any description of the species.

There is, of course, a big problem with this description. North America isn’t just the US and Canada.

This is North America:

North America

Yes. All that territory from Mexico to Panama is part of North America, and in those countries, there are multiple species of marsupials. Central America has 11 species. Mexico alone has has 8!

It is correct to say that the only marsupial in the US and Canada is the Virginia opossum, but it is geographical ignorance that only an American could conjure that says the Virginia opossum is the only marsupial found on the continent.

So when you see someone saying that Virginia opossums are the sole representatives of marsupials on this continent, realize that this person hasn’t thought through what he or she is actually saying.

Or is totally unaware that there isn’t continent between “North America” and South America.

There is also a subconscious racism at work, which sees only a community with Anglo-America as the true North America and casts aside that which lies to our south as being the other.

It may all be a silly little thing, but it grinds my gears.

And when we write about nature, we need to be more careful with our language.

 

 

 

 

 


Natural History

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What I’m Wearing Now: October

Fall Wardrobe Staples
1. Loveland Wrap in Cargo Green, prAna  //  2. Tassel Hoop Earrings, Madewell   //  3. Silver Hoop Earrings Set, H&M  //  4.  Classic Date Black Watch, Lord Timepieces (take 10% off with code BEAN)  //  5. Bell Sleeve Shift Dress, Nordstrom  //   6. Skinny Low Jeans in Black, H&M  //  7. Lily Tore Diaper Bag, Newlie  //  8Splash Gabi Sneakers, Minnetonka  //  9. Chuck Taylor All Star Low Tops, Converse  //  10. Beaded Chain Bracelet, Madewell  //  11. Madison Boots, Trask  //  12. Linen V-neck Top, H&M 

Despite a wonderfully warm fall season so far, my summertime wardrobe has officially finally gone into hibernation. And I’m cool with this, because, to be fair, I’ve gotten to wear my beloved summer dresses and cut offs and kimonos far beyond the time I normally do. Besides, even summer girls can appreciate layers for a while. (Give me a month or two though and I’ll be crying my eyes out for a good sundress and some flip flops.)

I’ve been living in black jeans, sweaters, and Converse this month, but I’ve actually ventured outside of my casual boho-WAHM-hybrid comfort zone too. I got this dress (#5 above) from Nordstrom for a wedding but have already worn it three times this month. You’ll won’t believe how inexpensive it was because it looks quite pricey in person. It’s so flattering and actually comfortable too. (The stilettos I paired it with for the wedding, not so much.)

All good things must come to an end, and I’ll put a solid bet on the fact that next month’s post will include a winter coat. Sigh. The sunshine was good while it lasted, Chicago.

(P.S. You can see other my other monthly post from the past couple of years right here.) 

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Bubby and Bean ::: Living Creatively

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Who Won the #LucyPet4Life Prizes?

We had so much fun on  Thursday night hosting the #LucyPet4Life Twitter party for Lucy Pet Products! We loved seeing everyone’s super cute pet photos and loved sharing the news about the…



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DogTipper

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Share Your Dog’s Rescue Story! #Giveaway

Both Irie and Tiki are from shelters and we couldn’t be more proud of that fact. Irie was first cared for by the Bulverde Humane Society, near San Antonio (where they took this great photo of…



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DogTipper

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Alison Eastwood’s Foster Fur Kids Unites Rescues with Fosters

As an actress, she’s shared screen time with such stars as Kevin Bacon, Dylan Walsh and movie legend Clint Eastwood. When Alison Eastwood isn’t in front of a camera, however, she steps…



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DogTipper

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FMLA to care for your dog

If you’re lucky enough to work in Italy, you may now be able to take paid time off of work to care for your ill dog. As you may know, here in the States, we have the Family Medical Leave Act, under which employers have to give you (usually unpaid) time off to care for […]


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Community Foster Group for Northern California Wildfire-Affected Animals

If you are in northern California (specifically near the Tubbs fire), please consider fostering displaced animals. And if you have an animal that needs to be fostered due to the fire, you now have a new resource to turn to. There is a Facebook page dedicated to those animals affected by the Tubbs fire. You […]


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How To Really Love a Child

How To Really Love a Child

I wanted to share this today. I know it’s not the usual type of thing we post on here on Bubby and Bean, and maybe it doesn’t really match our visual style or feel cohesive with the type of photos we normally share, and maybe that breaks of the rules of a design-focused blog – but that’s okay because it’s important. My friend Alyson shared it on her Instagram Stories last week, and it was such a great reminder for me. Whether you have children or not, I feel like it’s a positive thing to read and remember. The author/artist, SARK, actually helped me through a very dark time in my life several years ago. It was right before I started this blog, actually. My mom had a bunch of her books, and I borrowed all of them, and read them, night after night. I needed the positivity and I needed the creative inspiration. I haven’t read anything of her’s in years, but the reminder you see above came at exactly the right time.

Being a parent is hard. Emmett just turned 21 months and is fully in the terrible 2′s already, and it can be very, very difficult when he has tantrums. And Essley, who will be 4 in 3 months, has been going through a burst of independence where she challenges everything. Life has been full around here over this past month on top of that – we are in the middle of buying a house and also helping my mom move out of her home that she shared with my stepdad who passed away earlier this year, my stepmom just had major surgery for ovarian cancer, my workload has been much greater than I’m used to, and the world in general has been heavy. Lately I’ve caught myself snapping at my kids and losing patience easily. Sometimes I forget that they’re just kids you guys. I really do. But they are just kids. They’re little people with rapidly developing brains and poor emotional control who are trying to navigate a huge world. There are so many rules – for both the kids and their parents. I think it’s good to remember to relax a little, and just love them. Really love them.

Even if you aren’t a parent, do these things anyway! Do them with a child you care about, or yourself, or a friend, or a pet. Fun and lightheartedness and love are always good ideas. Thanks for letting me pop in like this and just share my thoughts sometimes. You guys are the best.

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Bubby and Bean ::: Living Creatively

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IKEA Has Gone to the Dogs

IKEA is introducing LURVIG, a comprehensive pet collection designed to help out in all aspects of life with dogs. The new collection was created by IKEA designers with support from vet Barbara Schafer and covers all the bases of sharing life with a dog. Beds, toys, leashes, bowls, and more! I don’t have an IKEA […]


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Homage to the Syrian hamster

golden hamster

Photo by Robert Maier.

It should be little surprise to readers of this blog that I have always been a bit into animals. My childhood dogs have featured heavily on this space, but the truth is I’ve had a wide variety of animals when I was a kid.

From grades 4-6, I was a hamster fanatic. At the time, it was very difficult for North American children to buy dwarf hamsters. The mainstay of the hamster world was the golden or Syrian hamster, and there were very few people breeding for docility in pet hamster strains. The goal was to produce as many different morphs as possible with very little regard to the temperament of the hamster.

As a result, many children from my generation have horror stories about biting hamsters.  Over my years of hamster keeping, I came to accept their bites as part of keeping them.

I got into hamsters rather on a lark. I was always reading the Barron’s pet guides, many of which were translations of German pet manuals, and the one on hamsters was written by Otto von Frisch.

hamster otto von frisch

This book created my hamster obsession.

The book was not just a pet care manual. It was full of anecdotes about pet hamsters, as well as discussions of scientific studies on their behavior.  It also talked a lot about the Central European ideas about hamster, for as I learned from that book, that there are hamsters native to Germany and Austria (the very large common hamster).  The species was well-known to farmers in the region as an agricultural pest and as a rather vicious creature that shouldn’t be messed with.  As someone who predominant ancestry is from that region, I was quite fascinated by these accounts.

And I knew I had to have a pet hamster.

After much pleading, I was given permission to get a hamster, provided I kept it at my grandparents’ house. My mother was an extreme murophobe, and I had to accept her conditions.

The first hamster I got was what was called a black-eyed cream. I named her Linda, because I was a child and thought that was a nice name.  And her variety may have been black-eyed cream, but her tendency to bite led to her receiving the moniker “the black-eyed bitch.”

I soon found that it was very easy to get hamsters. People were quite literally giving me new ones, including an old long-haired female that live for about two weeks then fell over dead from old age.

I longed, though, for a true “wild type” hamster.  I wanted one that was marked just as the wild ones are in Syria, with white cheek flashes and sabled golden coats.

I never was able to purchase such an animal. The closed I got was what was called a cinnamon hamster. She was marked just like a wild type, but she had no black hair at all on her pelt.

She had come from Walmart, where she had been kept in a cage with several banded hamsters. The banded ones were wild type in color, but they had a white band going through their mid-section. I had managed to get two females from that cage:  this cinnamon one and a banded one.

Two weeks later, the cinnamon hamster dropped pink babies all over her cage. Apparently, a male hamster had been kept with her, and she was just in the early days of her pregnancy when I got her.

In five days, their fur started to grow in. 9 were wild-type but banded, but one was wild type in full!

I didn’t understand my Mendel in those days.  The banded trait is dominant over the non-banded, and the wild-type markings are dominant over the cinnamon. Cinnamon bred to a banded wild-type would produce young that were banded wild-type, but if the wild-type were a carrier for a non-banded hamster, it is possible to get at least one in the litter that lacked a white band.

That’s what this hamster was, and I was instantly transfixed. I spent my summer that year handling hamster babies, knowing fully-well the stories of mother hamsters eating their young if they were stressed.

The young wild-type hamster was a male, and he became the tamest hamster I ever knew. I named him Houdini, after a children’s book I had read, but he really didn’t live up to his namesake. He escaped a few times– always because I left a latch on the cage a little loose– but he was easily recovered.

One time, he did escape and was gone for several days. I was certain that he had wandered out of the house and had eventually fallen prey to some nocturnal predator.

I had all but given up on him, so I sat with a heavy heart in my grandparents’ guest room watching Nature on PBS.  I heard some rumbling sounds in the wall.  I thought I was hearing things, but the rumbling sound grew louder and louder.

I then caught movement out of the corner of my eye. It was Houdini crawling along the side of the wall. He stopped and sniffed the air, and he scurried right up to me and let me pick him up.

My childhood mind said that Houdini came to me because he loved me. My adult mind now recognizes that Houdini recognized me as a source for food. He had spent several days wandering around the walls of my grandparents’ house and had become famished in his freedom. He caught my scent on his evening travels, and he came to me to figure out if I might have some food.

But a child’s mind saw Houdini as the Lassie of the hamsters. He’d come home out of the walls just because he loved me.

Despite that childhood flight of fancy, the hamsters taught me much. I learned what it was like to be around an animal that utterly has no use for humanity.  Dogs and horses are personable animals, but a hamster is solitary, remote, and mostly nocturnal (at least in captivity).

The world they reveal is a world in which territory matters the most. The males have greasy scent glands on their hips that they rub along their tunnels to mark their realms.  The females have a musty odor, and when they are receptive to males– every four days if not bred–they get quite stinky indeed.

I got to where I could tell if a female hamster was receptive just by the intensity of the odor. This odor is an adaptation to a species with such hyper territorial behavior that they are forced to live pretty far from each other. The strong estrus odor of a female hamster is necessary to announce to the male that it is okay for him to enter her territory and mate with her. When she is not receptive, she will attack any hamster, male or female, that comes near. In this species the females are bigger and fatter than the males, and males that don’t heed the odors wind up with a dangerous situation indeed.

These captive hamsters– all derived from a single litter captured near Aleppo in the 1930s– opened my eyes to another world.

The solitary Syrian hamster lives and breeds well in captivity, but it is still mostly a wild animal. In the past few years, breeders have produced truly more docile strains of hamster, but I knew them in the raw.

In fact, I think that if I were ever to be a hamster keeper again, I would try to get a little more of the more rugged strain. I would not be buying a cute pet for the kids. I would be be buying an animal that I wish to appreciate as a wild being with its own instincts and drives and desires.  I would want to be the naturalist hamster lover again. I would keep them with the cool detachment of an adult who understands animal behavior and not the childhood anthropomorphism or “cynomorphism” that turned them into furry people or severely debased dogs.

The Syrian hamster will always mean a lot to me. They were terrible pets for the typical child, but they were the ideal subjects for a budding young naturalist who needed to know animals that weren’t dogs or horses.

They opened my mind to something else, and I will always appreciate them for their indifference and their solitary grumpiness and their general remoteness.

***

This is my contribution to Rodent Week.

 

 

 

 

 


Natural History

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