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Ginny Apple expounded on characteristics and habits of the “Fearsome  Foursome” at the Hunt Library Feb. 18. Photo by Patrick L. Sullivan

The ‘Fearsome Foursome’ explained at Hunt Library

FALLS VILLAGE — As this non-snowy winter (until this week) winds down, the woods might seem bereft of life. Rest assured, said Ginny Apple. If you go for a ramble, there are animals watching you, including the “Fearsome Foursome”: raccoons, skunks, porcupines and possums.

Apple, a state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Master Wildlife Conservationist, spoke at the David M. Hunt Library Saturday, Feb. 18.

Raccoons have the dubious distinction of being the biggest vector of rabies, she said.

However, if you spot one out during the day, that doesn’t mean it is rabid.

Raccoons are very adaptable and dexterous, meaning there is an excellent chance of them getting into the garbage, day or night.

And if humans leave a “smorgasbord” in the form of household garbage out where the raccoons (and other animals) can get at it...

Raccoons enjoy a superb tactile sense. Their paws bear more than a passing resemblance to the human hand, and are so sensitive that the animals can locate grubs and other subsurface food by placing their paws on the ground.

Apple said raccoons are often observed placing their paws in water. This is not to wash their food, as many people think. Rather, the cold water stimulates their nerve endings.

The North American porcupine is a rodent. The animal’s most notable feature are the barbed quills that cover most of the body, except the face and belly.

They have 30,000 quills, attached singly. (Old World porcupines have quills attached in bunches.) The quills are hollow and therefore buoyant, making the porcupine a good swimmer.

Porcupines have poor vision but an excellent sense of smell.

Porcupines are often encountered as roadkill. In addition to being smallish, dark and hard to see, they like to lick the salt used in winter road treatment.

Evict carefully

Skunks, about the size of a house cat, are known for their sulfuric spray, which they direct accurately to a distance of 10 to 15 feet. A generally easy-going creature, the skunk, when alarmed, will blast the spray from musk glands located under the tail.

So the prudent homeowner, upon discovering skunks under the porch, will refrain from attempting a physical eviction.

Instead, make life unpleasant for your unwanted tenant. Apple suggested loud noises.

The possum is the only marsupial in North America, and like its famous antipodean relative, the kangaroo, the female possum keeps its newborns in a pouch until they are ready to venture out into the world.

Possums draw the attention of many predators. To keep their numbers up, possums have short gestation periods of 12 days, and have multiple babies.

Despite an impressive set of teeth, the possum has one famous defense mechanism. It plays dead.

Apple said this is a reflexive action, not a conscious decision on the part of the possum.

Possums also have a habit which should endear them to humans. They eat ticks, by the thousands.

None of the Fearsome Foursome hibernate, Apple said.

However, they will “hunker down” in severe weather.

So as you wander through the woods, keep an eye out. The Fearsome Foursome are assuredly keeping tabs on you.

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