Having lived in the suburbs for a dozen years, I have gotten pretty good at distinguishing between certain species of animals. This was something of a real achievement for me since, for the most part, the only animals I had regular encounters with when I lived in the city were the two-legged kind. But now, after much experience, I can proudly say that I am something of an expert in suburban wildlife identification.


 

Having lived in the suburbs for a dozen years, I have gotten pretty good at distinguishing between certain species of animals. This was something of a real achievement for me since, for the most part, the only animals I had regular encounters with when I lived in the city were the two-legged kind. But now, after much experience, I can proudly say that I am something of an expert in suburban wildlife identification.


For instance, I now know that the animal I routinely see in my yard that I used to think was a beaver is actually woodchuck.


The fact that we do not live near a body of water and this animal did not have a flat tail might have been my first indication that I was off base. I, however, assumed that this was a rare variety of suburban beaver that has a bushy tail and does not swim and therefore, must be a beaver.


I eventually figured it out when I called animal control to ask them to come capture the beaver in my backyard, and they laughed for a full five minutes before they hung up on me.


Then there was the possum I thought was an otter. Again, there was that lack of water, thing. However, since I had never seen a real possum before but had seen plenty of otters on the Discovery Channel, I thought this was probably an otter that had gotten lost on its way to the beach. After we trapped it in a cage under our shed and I saw its razor sharp teeth up close, I decided this was either a mutant vampire zombie otter or some other kind of animal altogether.


“Honey,” I said after spying the zombie otter in the trap. “Guess what we caught under the shed?”


“What?” he said.


“A Tasmanian devil!”


The animal control guy who came to take the possum away got a good chuckle out of that one, too.


Over the next few years, I learned that the Madagascar lemur eating out of our garbage was actually a raccoon, the dwarf wolf in the yard was actually a fox, and the baby crocodile on the front step was really a newt.


Clearly I watch too much Discovery Channel.


Eventually I was exposed to just about every regular species of suburban wildlife and finally had a good sense of what was what.


Then one day as I walked out of the garage to go to my car, I stopped dead in my tracks. There in the middle of the driveway, between me and my car, was a huge snake. I had seen some smaller garter snakes before, but this one was almost 3 feet long and jet black. I had no idea what kind of snake it was, but I was fairly certain that anything that big had to be dangerous. 


I retraced my steps backward into the house and quickly called my husband.


“There is a HUGE snake in the driveway!” I told him. “I need to get to my car! What should I do?”


“Stay far away from it, but see if you can scare it away,” he suggested.


I went back out to the garage and banged a pan with a spoon. But the snake didn’t move. Then I tossed a basketball near it. Nothing. Finally I went into the house and called my husband back.


“Good news,” I told him. “I got rid of the snake.”


“How?” he asked.


“I picked it up and threw it into the bushes.”


“YOU PICKED IT UP?! He repeated incredulously.


“Yeah,” I said. “Turned out it wasn’t actually a giant snake.”


“What was it?” he asked.


“A stick.”


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