First, thank you to Amy for calling and asking if I had any possum yarn. I didn't even know that such a thing existed! Second, thank you to everyone who wrote in with their thoughts as to where I could find information about possum yarn. As you know, I LOVE to research and that is what I have done. Today, I will share with you what I have learned about possum yarn.
On the left, I present the Virginia Opossum. The Opossum is America's only marsupial. It has a prehensile tail and IS the basis for the phrase "playing possum" because it will often play dead when threatened. It is NOT a provider of yarn.
On the right, I would like to introduce you to the opossum's distant marsupial relative, the New Zealand Brushtailed Possum. It's tail is fur covered; I'm not sure if it's prehensile or not. But, this varmint IS the provider of fibre that is spun with merino wool to make yarn that is reportedly lighter and warmer than wool.
Possums were introduced to New Zealand (from Australia) in 1837 to create a fur trade. However, since there were no natural predators for the possum in New Zealand and plenty of non-spiny/thorny vegetation for it to consume, the critters proliferated to the point that today there are some 70 million possums in New Zealand. According to The Kiwi Conservation Club that's 20 possums per person in NZed! (You thought having more than a couple of cats was bad!)
Possums are native to Australia , are NOT a problem there, and are protected. However, in NZ they are munching the vegetation at an alarming rate (an example of damage here) and (according to Landcare Research) carry bovine tuberculosis that infects cattle and deer. They are a MAJOR pest in New Zealand and need to be dealt with.
There are two avenues of recourse at this point: Harvest vs. birth control. (That's right, you heard me, birth control! I wonder who is going to remind them to take their pill each day!?!) If they are "harvested", they go through a Beta Plucka (possum plucker: I'm not making this up!) to retrieve the fiber to be mixed with Merino wool. (I haven't checked the PETA site yet, but I'm guessing that maybe "saving possums" doesn't sound nearly as sexy as "saving chinchillas".)
I leave you with this closing thought from NZ Possum Products (in agreement with the Kiwi Conservation Corp's opinion): "NZ possum fur is a very versatile fur and it is environmentally responsible to purchase possum products." So if you knit with possum, just tell people that you are doing your bit for the environment. I reserve my own opinion until I get my hands on some for a "touch" test. And that's today's lesson: the US has "Opossums"; Australia and New Zealand have "Possums" and possum yarn ONLY comes from New Zealand.