DEAR JOAN: I watched an opossum recovering from a traumatic experience the other evening.
We have two mini schnauzers. I have seen the little female kill a rat she caught in an ivy fence line we pass on our walk. Wondering why she was spending so much time out in the rain, we looked out to see her smelling and nuzzling an apparently dead opossum. We shooed her inside, and I watched to see if I was going to have to dispose of the opossum as I did the rat mentioned above.
After several minutes I saw the opossum's ear twitch, an eye open, the head come up slowly. The possum was gone when I looked out later.
I wondered if the possum was moving slowly to make sure the coast was clear, or do they always take some time to "wake up"?
DEAR MIKE: Opossums are notorious for playing dead when they are threatened or in fear, but actually, they aren't playing at anything.
In the face of danger, an opossum faints. Or something akin to it. Its body seizes up, it falls over and lies stiff and motionless. A predator that is keen on the actual hunt assumes the opossum is dead and generally leaves it be.
In the case of your schnauzer, the dog was likely confused why the creature had suddenly gone still. She was nuzzling the thing in an attempt to get it to move again.
Nature has given opossums an interesting protective tool, but it's not foolproof. While unconscious, they are vulnerable to whatever animals and humans might want to do with their "dead" bodies. Good thing you didn't act too quickly in disposing of it.
Opossums are sort of slow moving anyway, but it does take them a while to recover and to check that the danger has passed.
In addition to fainting, opossums also can do excessive drooling to fake illness, and they can release an unpleasant smell from their behinds. Sounds just like a kid I went to school with.
DEAR JOAN: Do you know this spider? I recently found it in my backyard and have not been able to identify it on the Internet. Can you help me?
DEAR NONA: I don't know it personally, but I recognize another fine example of an orb spinner. This one, I believe, is a banded garden spider (Argiope trifasciata). It is one of the largest and most amazing looking of orb weavers. You'll see them predominantly in the late summer through early winter in this part of the country.
The spider is harmless to humans and pets, although it does a great job of ensnaring common garden pests, making it a fine companion in your yard.
To see Nona's photo, go to www.pinterest.com/gardenjoan and look on the "Animal Life, a column" board.
DEAR JOAN: Thought you might be interested in this. My sister-in-law lives in Mariposa, near Yosemite. They evidently are on a migration route for hummers.
This year, from April to mid-November, she has made 196 gallons of sugar water. She's hoping they head south soon.
A few years ago she made 141 gallons and we thought that was a lot.
DEAR BLAIR: That is a lot of nectar, but she may not be through. Only some hummingbirds migrate. Others, including the Anna's hummer, does not.
Maybe she should plant some salvia to help feed them. Or sugar cane.
Contact Joan Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org; or P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.