Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Needham Opossum

On March 26th, a large male opossum was hit and killed right down the road from my parents' house. That day was also Steph's birthday, and she was a wonderful sport.

Needham Opossum

After his death, this opossum became rather well-traveled. After retrieving the body from the road, we brought it to the Matthaei Botanical Gardens to do a brief photoshoot.

Needham Opossum

Once finished, we made the drive back to my parents' street, and placed the body in their backyard for further decay. For a few weeks, it seemed like no sort of decomposition was taking place; sure, the color in the opossum's nose had faded, and the fur was soggy from rain, but no other changes seemed obvious. On one particular evening after a day of heavy rainfall, the slanting sunlight hit the carcass at just the right angle, making the beads of water that clung to its fur sparkle -- I kicked myself for not having my camera with me at the time.

Finally, the hair started to fall from the skin, and on a warmer day, the flies and carrion beetles arrived.

Needham Opossum: Day 16
Day 16

From that point on, decomposition happened fast. Crows and, most notably, turkey vultures visited my parents' backyard, picking at the carcass. It moved from place to place, decaying more and more every day.

On Day 29, the opossum's body smelled so bad that I could hardly stay still long enough to take any photographs. I've worked around plenty of fragrant carcasses, but on this particular day, the odor was at a level I'd not yet experienced.

Needham Opossum: Day 29
Day 29

April was a very rainy month. We had several torrential downpours, which only made the opossum appear more grotesque. By Day 34, the carcass, which never truly bloated, had collapsed and begun to liquefy. Bones poked through the soggy skin, and the odor, thankfully, lessened.

Needham Opossum: Day 34
Day 34

As the flesh began to peel away from the skull, it became obvious that this animal's head had been crushed when struck on the road. By Day 37, the skin had shriveled and turned black, giving the opossum's mouth a somewhat terrifying-looking sneer.

Needham Opossum: Day 37
Day 37

When I visited the carcass this morning, it was little more than a skeleton half-covered in a thin layer of mummified skin. A few beetle larvae crawled across what was left; it's interesting to note that not once did I see any obvious sign of maggots in or around the body.

Needham Opossum: Day 40
Day 40

I will continue to keep a close eye on this opossum. The body has proven to be a fascinating subject for observation and photography, not to mention a fragrant gardening companion.

1 comment:

  1. Mmmmm... Nothing like the fragrance of rotting opossum to make my gardening chores more pleasant! :-)