Sometime in March, a stowaway opossum arrived by boat in Homer, Alaska, igniting a mixture of excitement and consternation among the locals. Opossums are not native to Alaska and pose potential threats to native species. Officials with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game requested assistance capturing the varmint, while some residents rallied behind the rogue marsupial, nicknaming it “Grubby” after Grubstake Avenue, where it was spotted in April.
Grubby was finally captured in May, but not before she gave birth to a litter of possums. Officials have captured four joeys as of June 6, but are searching for more.
“Opossums typically have litter sizes of, say, eight to nine—they’ve been known to have as many as 13,” ADFG biologist Jason Herreman said earlier this month. “So, there’s probably a few individuals out there that we’re trying to track down.”
A Community Divided
A local animal shelter managed to capture the opossum in April, but it escaped before ADFG officials could arrive. Over the following weeks, as Grubby ran loose in the coastal community, some Homerites embraced their new hero while others argued for the opossum’s recapture. This included ADFG officials, who cited the risks the non-native critter posed to fish, birds, and other native species.
“The issue is that we don’t want invasive species in the state because of disease possibilities, because of the effect on native flora and fauna,” Herreman told reporters in April.
The controversy only helped boost Grubby’s celebrity status, and a campaign to save the opossum sprang up in town. The hashtag #FreeGrubby became prominent on social media as locals posted flyers and made t-shirts.
“The community has become completely divided,” the city’s animal shelter director Jillian Roberts said later that month.
State officials, meanwhile, continued to push for the opossum’s lethal removal. Herreman had a bigger concern: that the opossum could be a female carrying young. “The last thing we want is to establish a population.”
In May Herreman’s fears were realized when Grubby gave birth to a litter of joeys. Afraid of another Aleutian Island varmint infestation, officials asked the local community to help trap Grubby and her offspring. On May 24, the adult possum was finally apprehended by the Homer Police Department.
“Yesterday morning at approximately 0525 hours, Officer Crowder observed a wanted fugitive and somewhat local celebrity on the lam near Lakeside Drive and Smokey Bay,” the local police wrote in a Facebook post. “After some very effective de-escalation, the suspect was contained and taken into custody without further incident. It was transported to the Homer Jail via a very comfortable Rubbermaid trash can.”
Grubby was then turned over to ADFG officials in Homer. And although they had previously announced that the opossum would be euthanized, officials had already begun looking into other options.
“There were folks who were interested in making sure this animal wasn’t necessarily destroyed, but had a chance to be re-homed or sent back where it came from,” Herreman told Alaska Public Media last month. “And then we have other folks who understand the invasive-species issue and don’t have any issues with the animal possibly being put down for the good of the ecosystem.”
After communicating with several facilities, Herreman announced on May 25 that the Anchorage Zoo had volunteered to take the animal in. As the zoo’s first and only opossum, Grubby will live out her remaining days in captivity.
Now faced with a passel of unwanted opossums in Homer, ADFG biologists have been searching the town for Grubby’s offspring (which locals have jokingly referred to as “grublets”). They caught one joey on June 2 and trapped three more on June 6.
Efforts to trap the remaining opossums are ongoing, and the Homer Police Department has encouraged locals to report the joeys as they’re found. “They have placements for the little ones so don’t be afraid to give us a ring,” the department wrote in a Facebook post.