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Virginia Opossum - Didelphis virginiana



 Phylum: Chordata
 Class: Mammalia
 Order: Didelphimorpha
 Family: Didelphidae
 Genus: Didelphis
ICUN Redlist - World Status: Least Concern Least Concern


OpossumThe Virginia opossum is North America's only marsupial. A marsupial is an animal with a pouch. The opossum has been around for at least 70 million years and is one of Earth's oldest surviving mammals!

OpossumThe Virginia opossum is about the size of a large house cat. It has a triangular head and a long, pointed nose. It has grayish fur everywhere but on its ears, feet, and tail.

It has a prehensile tail. A prehensile tail is adapted for grasping and wrapping around things like tree limbs. The opossum can hang from its tail for a short time. Some people think opossums hang from their tails and sleep. They don't. Their tails aren't strong enough to hold them for that long!

pawThe opossum has opposable hallux. Hallux are clawless big toes that work like thumbs. The hallux helps the Virginia opossum grab branches when it climbs. The opossum doesn't hibernate in the winter, but it often holes up during very cold weather because it runs the risk of getting frostbite on its hairless ears, tail, and toes.


mapThe Virginia opossum is found in most of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains and on the West Coast. It is also found in Mexico, Central America, and in British Columbia .


OpossumThe Virginia opossum lives in a wide variety of habitats including deciduous forests, open woods, and farmland. It tends to prefer wet areas like marshes, swamps, and streams.


OpossumThe Virginia opossum is nocturnal and uses its keen sense of smell to locate food. It is omnivorous and eats just about anything, including lots of different plants and animals like fruits, insects, and other small animals. Sometimes, it eats garbage and carrion, or dead animals. Because so much carrion is roadkill, opossums are often killed by cars while looking for food on roadways.


Did You Know?
dj The name 'opossum' was first used in western culture by Captain John Smith in 1608. It comes from the  Powhatan name apasum, which means "white animal."

Life Cycle

OpossumA Virginia opossum female may have as many as 25 babies, but she usually has 7-8. The reason opossums have so many babies to insure that some of them survive. Like most marsupials, opossums are very small when they are born - about the size of a bean.

The babies climb up the mother's fur and into her pouch where they find a teat. Some babies do not find their way to the pouch and die. If they make it to the pouch, only babies who find one of the thirteen teats survive. They stay in the pouch and suckle for 55-60 days. Then they move out of the pouch and spend another four to six weeks on their mother's back. In some parts of their range, females have three litters a year.


OpossumThe Virginia opossum has many behavioral adaptations it uses to survive. When threatened, it exhibits behaviors like running, growling, belching, urinating, and even defecating. Sometimes it "plays possum" and rolls over, becomes stiff, and drools. Its breathing becomes slow and shallow. This coma-like state can last up to four hours. Some predators will think the opossum is dead and go away!