I recently read an interesting article in which blame for the Ozarks’ struggling turkey and quail populations was partly placed on that armored invader from the south – the armadillo.
Armadillos aren’t native to the Ozarks, as I’m sure you know, and weren’t much seen around these parts until a few decades ago. They migrated up from Texas and Louisiana and points farther south.
Some say climate change is the reason. Some say it’s something in their biological clock. Whatever the reason, the arrival of the nasty little critters could at least partly correspond to dropping quail and turkey numbers, according to the article.
Both birds lay their eggs on the ground and armadillos seem to enjoy omelets, along with their usual diet of grubs, worms, and insects.
I’m no biologist for sure, and I hope I’m not passing on misinformation. I just found it an interesting theory – if that’s what it is.
I once knew an Indian woman who ate armadillo. She said it didn’t taste bad, but was a pain to skin because of the shell. No, thank you.
The opossum, on the other hand, IS a native Ozarker, like myself. I don’t hold them in very high regard, just slightly above an armadillo, really. I sure shot plenty of them when I was a kid growing up in the hills of McDonald County, though I’m ashamed to say it was wasted meat because I have yet to try possum. Don’t think I ever will, either.
One time I fired at a momma possum with a shotgun, and aimed a little low. If you didn’t already know, possums are marsupials and carry their ugly little babies in a pouch like a kangaroo (except most possums don’t hop around on their hind legs, or at least they better not!).
Well, after that blast there were tiny naked possums scattered everywhere. The scene was as gross as you imagine, and I sort of regret it now.
There is an old Ozarks fiddle tune – originally from Appalachia, I imagine – titled “Possum Up a Persimmon Tree,” though other variations and titles of the same song exist as well (including the better known “Bile that Cabbage Down”).
One verse goes:
“Possum up persimmon tree,
Raccoon on the ground,
Raccoon says to possum,
‘Won’t you shake them ‘simmons down.’”
There is an old Ozark superstition that goes when a man feels a sudden chill, it means that a possum is at that moment walking over the exact spot of ground that will later be his grave.
Why a possum, I don’t know. It could also be a rabbit or a goose, though, says the superstition, preserved for us by Mr. Vance Randolph. There is another superstition about possums that Mr. Randolph recorded but it isn’t exactly printable.
Another interesting varmint in the Ozarks is the groundhog. Other parts of the country call them woodchucks. But they are a rodent by any name.
Ever wonder why we don’t mind squirrels, and even like to watch them, and that we sometimes find groundhogs mysteriously interesting, but are revolted by mice and rats? Why? They are all rodents. I’m not judging. I hate mice and rats, too.
Don’t ever shoot a groundhog, by the way, or it will bring bad luck. Or so says another old Ozark superstition. Did you know groundhogs climb trees? Most people don’t believe me when I tell them that, but I saw one do it.
I was about 12 or 14 and in the middle of the woods, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a tree move. I turned and squinted and stared real hard. And sure enough, about 20 yards away, this big lump on the side of a tree started to slowly make its way up the trunk.
I stared harder and edged a little closer to the moving gray lump. When I got close enough I saw it was a groundhog, and it was halfway up an adult oak tree.
Most of the time they’re after paw-paws or some fruit, but maybe this one wanted green acorns. I don’t know. But I saw it with my own eyes. And this native Show-Me Ozarker is big on seeing before believing.
Look it up on Youtube, or some other online video site. You’ll believe too, even if you don’t get a chance to witness it live for yourself.
Armadillos, possums, and groundhogs. Three species. Three sometime nuisances. And all three edible.
If you’re adventurous.
(Wes Franklin can be reached at 417-658-8443 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)