Waiting and the Yapok

Two weeks does not seem like all that long. Fourteen days.  Three hundred and thirty six hours.  Sometimes I wonder what is wrong with me that, after 27 years of marriage, I find two weeks without my spouse to be an eternity, and one that I did not particularly handle well.  That’s not the point.

Tonight I am tracking Ethiopian Airlines flight 500, and I know that it’s in Rome at the moment, and if God is merciful, it will be in Washington, DC in the morning, with my Beloved on board.  I feel like I am six years old, waiting for Christmas.  That is not the point, either.

My real point, and the whole reason for this diatribe, is that two weeks also happens to be the shortest gestation period for a mammal.  If I were the rare water opossum, Latin name Chironectes minimus,  colloquially called a yapok, I could’ve gotten pregnant and had quadruplets by now.

The yapok is native to southern Mexico, Central America , and northern South America.  It’s on the “threatened” wildlife list, which is odd, because it has babies like nobody’s business, and it lives to be three years old.  If my math is right, and if the average female yapok has the average number of babies, then she could pop out 208 baby yapoks over her two-year reproductive lifespan.

Water opossum reproduction is complicated, though.  Yapoks are known for being reticent, anti-social, and hard to find.  In fact, the World Wildlife Federation, which tries to monitor species hovering on the disaster curve, can’t decide if the yapoks are rare because of poaching and habitat loss, or if they’re rare because they just don’t get along with anybody.  They live in riverbank tunnels, stalk fish and other aquatic animals at night, and generally shy away not just  from human contact, but from yapok contact, too; they don’t even like each other very much.  I am freaking charmed.

I’ve learned that the yapok is the only aquatic marsupial, has webbed hind feet, and steers with its tail as it swims.  It enjoys a slightly (well, okay, very) slimy diet of small fish, frogs, tadpoles, and crayfish.  Both male and female yapoks have pouches, too, and one web source — remember, I am not making this up — says that the male yapok’s  pouch is where he “places his genitalia before swimming . . . to prevent it being tangled in aquatic vegetation.” (!)

Of course, the real reason a yapok isn’t filling the world with mad opossums is that the two-week gestation period is just the internal one.  After they’re born, the babies crawl into Mom’s pouch, and she drags those little goombas with her everywhere for 22 more weeks.  Yes, she might be pregnant for fourteen days, but she’s got a waterproof pouch full of nursing, squabbling, and above all, growing, babies for the better part of six months.  Faced with that reality, I’d probably be a lot more anti-social, and perhaps anti-spousal, myself, so it’s probably best that I passed the time with Terry Pratchett novels and cleaning closets.


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