The Opossum’s Tail Tale

I enjoy sharing stories from other cultures. Since I enjoy stories about nature and animals that explain their origins or features or aspects of their personalities, this story was just the one I wanted to share today. This one is one of my favorites.

This is one version of an ancient Cherokee legend explaining how the opossum got his skinny tail and his odd behavior when startled, surprised or scared.

Many years ago the animals had voices and customs just as the First People had. They lived in villages, had councils, contests and dances too. Have you ever had a friend who bragged on and on about some possession, ability or trait they had? How did it make you feel?

Well Rabbit was fed up with Possum’s bragging about his own most spectacular, most beautiful, furry tail. The fur on his tail was so wondrous that many animals were quite jealous of it.

Rabbit had lost his tail due to trickery from another of the Animal People and he was still pretty upset about his loss. Between Possum’s gloating and bragging about his own tail, and Possum’s strutting around like a great warrior, Rabbit was fit to be tied! (That is a Southern expression for really ticked off!)

Soon Rabbit could not stand Possum’s bragging any longer! He formulated a plan that would soon be an equalizer for Possum and his most spectacular, most beautiful, furry tail.

Rabbit created a contest for the most beautiful tail among all of the creatures with tails. Invitations were sent out to all of the animals. Rabbit quite surprised everyone by his eagerness, as he offered to hand (or paw) deliver Possum’s invitation himself.

Opossum Family @ NC Museum of Science 090
Opossum Family @ NC Museum of Science 090

So Rabbit delivered Possum’s invitation to the Most Beautiful Tail Contest with great excitement. But Rabbit’s excitement was surpassed by Possum’s excitement as he imagined:  “At last every one will know that my tail is the most most spectacular, most beautiful, furry tail, (and soon to be, the most adored tail in the world)!”

Suddenly Possum’s demeanor changed. “But oh! How will I travel so far away through dirt, mud and old leaves and keep my tail in its most most spectacular, most beautiful, furry condition?”

Rabbit observed Possum’s anxiety as it grew. When Possum’s apprehension had reached agitation state he knew the time was right to make his offer. “Possum, I know the road to the contest is long and dirty and you must be concerned about keeping that most spectacular, most beautiful, furry tail clean and neat for the competition. So please allow me to send Cricket to brush and then wrap your tail with deerskin wraps to protect it and keep it at its best,” Rabbit said.

Opossum (Thanks to Sigrid Van Horn.)
(Thanks to Sigrid Van Horn.)

Possum was truly pleased that Rabbit admired his most spectacular, most beautiful, furry tail enough to want it to be at its best for the contest. “Oh, thank you, Rabbit! That is ever so kind of you!”

So the next day Cricket came and greeted Possum and began grooming Possum’s tail. He brushed and wrapped it and then Cricket and Possum started on their way to the contest.

All of the animals had their tails washed, brushed, groomed and shining. Each one was wondering who would win the contest. As the contest proceeded each of the animals walked across the stage, one at a time in front of the viewing stands. Possum waited to be last so his tail would be the last tail seen and the one best remembered by the judges.

Just before he took his walk across the stage, Cricket came and unwrapped Possum’s tail as Possum primped and jabbered on about his most spectacular, most beautiful, furry tail.

As Possum began his promenade around the course he was looking forward to seeing the admiration and to hearing the Oooohs, and Ahhs of the audience. But all he heard was first a gasp, then silence then loud waves of laughter! What were they laughing about? He noticed them pointing at him and so he turned to be sure his tail was lofted beautifully.

But the sight that met his eyes shocked him so much that he fainted stiff as a board and stayed that way for hours! His mouth was left pulled wide in a grimace showing his teeth. He looked like he was dead with eyes open and staring!

Opossum asleep or playing possum?@ NC Museum of Science 079
Opossum asleep or playing possum?

This alarmed all of the animals because they didn’t know what to think. The animals were so worried and involved in pampering and reassuring Possum after he came to, that they forgot all about the contest.

What had happened to Possum’s tail?  Rabbit’s plan had been implemented by Cricket. As Cricket brushed Possum’s tail, he had cut the fur off of it. By wrapping the furless tail with hides, he hid the damage that had been done till the inevitable unwrapping in front of everyone at the contest.

Poor Possum was left with his ugly, skinny pink tail. But Creator decided to make something good out of Rabbit’s prank. Possum would be stuck with the tail to remind him not to be vain and inconsiderate of the other animals. So this is why the opossum has a skinny tail. He still faints when surprised or afraid with that same toothy grimace and can stay asleep for several hours.

This ability has saved his life many times when predators approached him.  Most animals won’t eat something that dies right before their eyes. Plus the opossum emits a horrific odor when in this state which definitely decreases any creature’s appetite for him.

So even though the opossum lost his tail of beauty he also learned his lesson and was much kinder to the other forest creatures.

An amazing video about the opossum:

23 thoughts on “The Opossum’s Tail Tale

    1. I only hope that my alterations and additions will not offend any Native Americans! I honor them, I feel, by sharing their stories. Boy, JoHanna, you weren’t kidding when you said you had taken a trip(?) around my site. Thank you!!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I love it. My only concern with the possum is that they carry a disease that is somehow picked up by horses and causes neurological problems. I don’t know how it is transmitted from the possums. We have only recently had possums here in Ontario and it is climate change that has moderated our winters and the possums have travelled north.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The disease is called EPM and I think it stands for Equine protozoal meningitis. Not sure of the spelling. It is a parasite carried by possums. When it gets into the horses system it lodges in the spine and causes the neurological disorders.


    1. Delighted that you enjoyed it, Anne! I have always been interested in Native American people’s customs.They were so amazing to have survived as they did and yet have a belief in the “Great Spirit”. Many tribes, if not all(?) thanked the animal they killed to feed, clothe and shelter their family. There are more I will share later.

      Liked by 1 person

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