Virginia Opossum
Didelphis virginiana
Family Didelphidae

* Fur whitish gray, face white. Muzzle long, pointed, rat-like.
* Ears thin, black or with white tips.
* Tail round, thin, scaly with a few bristly hairs, prehensile, black with a white tip, 9-20".
* Head and body length: 15-20".

Natural History:
* Habitat: Farmlands, suburbs, forests, along streams. Lives in old dens, hollow trees, buildings, brush piles.
* Range: Eastern and central United States, southeastern Canada, and most of Mexico.
* Behavior: 'Possums are usually nocturnal. They feed on fruits, vegetables, nuts, meat, eggs, insects, and carrion. They are the only marsupials in North America. When opossums are born, the tiny, blind young crawl through the mother's hair to her external pouch and develop attached to a nipple. Indeed, the nipple swells in the mouth so a small opossum cannot let go. Once free of the pouch, they often choose to ride on their mother's back, clinging to her fur.
* Lifespan: About 7 years.
* Native.

* One contribution the opossum has made to our language is the expression "playing possum", meaning "faking something". The expression comes from an unusual behavior of the animal; it can appear dead by lying limp and motionless, with its mouth open. This state can last from a few minutes up to six hours. Scientists have dubbed this behavior a protective measure, but the exact reason for playing dead remains unknown. However, do not touch an opossum playing dead. The animal will deliver a nasty bite if you do not go along with its fakery.

* Why are there so many opossums in Australia but only one species in North America? The answer probably has to do with continental drift; in those faraway days when all continents on earth were joined, the Virginia Opossum ended up in the region which later became the North American continent. Its relatives remained Down Under, and are still firmly established there today.

Approved by NR


Created by: Niki Zhou and Carla Holleran
Maintained by: Nick Rodenhouse
Created: June 25, 2004
Last Modified: August 7, 2004
Expries: June 1, 2005