11 April 2014

Opossum trapped near Rexton a first for New Brunswick

Species not seen north of Bangor, Me. until now

CBC News

A New Brunswick trapper has made history, catching an opossum in one of his snares.

Up until now, there have been no recorded sightings of the species north of Bangor, Maine.

But Albert Allain, of Richibucto Village, recently trapped one near Rexton.

He was "pretty excited and impressed," according to his daughter Lisa Leblanc.

Allain, 80, has been hunting and trapping for many years and it was the most interesting thing he's ever caught, she said.

Allain's grandson, Manuel Leblanc, who was with him in the woods when he made the discovery, said they were both taken aback by the critter.

It's a bit smaller than a raccoon with long beige fur, long nails and a hairless tail, much like that of a rat.

They had "no clue" what it was, said Leblanc. "It's the ugliest thing I've ever seen. It looks like a big rat. Big long tail and it's got big claws, too. It doesn't look like a nice thing."

Don McAlpine, research curator and head of zoology at the New Brunswick Museum. says he was also "surprised, to say the least."

Although opossums, which are often called possums, have been expanding their range northward over the past century, "it's not an animal we'd expect to see in New Brunswick, for sure," he said.

"I'm quite certain it's a one-off."

May have hitched a ride

McAlpine believes the opposum may have hitched a ride on a truck heading north.

"They don’t hibernate as such, but they do move into a den or a hollow tree or an attic to overwinter. So it may have been a hollow tree that was cut and was being move  north, or it may have been in some packing materials, who knows? But I think it's the most likely route that it took to get here," said McAlpine.

The other possibility is that someone may have been keeping it as a pet, he said.

Scientists will be performing a necropsy to try to learn more about the animal and its time in New Brunswick, said McAlpine.

They will be checking its stomach contents to try to determine what it was eating and will be looking for frostbite, he said.

Even if the opossum hadn't been trapped, it would not have lived very long, said McAlpine.

"It's too cold here for an extended period for it to survive for a long time … especially this winter," he said.