While leading a class of homeschoolers along the Arboretum’s woodland paths, I spied two black snakes twisted in an amorous embrace. “Oh look!” I said, waving my hand toward the stream bank, “The snakes are hugging!” A small eight-year-old appeared at my elbow. “Miss Jenny, are they hugging, or are they mating?” she asked.
Plant and animal life cycles are an integral part of environmental education, and there’s never a better time to teach life cycles than spring, when the animal world expands with new life. A recent evening walk afforded me an awesome example of animal young in the form of a mother opossum ambling along with a row of tiny balls clinging to her back. Those balls, it turned out, were baby opossums.
Opossums (or possums, as those of us with a Southern leaning call them) are marsupials, and leave the pouch when they are between 70 and 125 days old. Contrary to popular belief, adult opossums do not hang by their tails to sleep (their tails are not strong enough to support their weight.) Baby opossums may hang from their tails, but only for brief periods of time.
While you are unlikely to spy opossums at the Arboretum during visiting hours, you are certain to encounter tadpoles in the wetland, bluebirds guarding their nests, and monarch caterpillars among the milkweed. You might also chance upon another sight for sore eyes: scores of enthusiastic children delighting in nature during a spring environmental education program.
by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator