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Virginia Opossum Didelphis virginiana


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Virginia Opossum with young
credit: Cody Pope/CCSA

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Family: Didelphidae, Opossums view all from this family

Description Unique with white head and long, scaly, prehensile tail. A medium-sized, rather ponderous-looking mammal with a long pink-tipped snout, white toes, and leathery, white-tipped ears. Body fur is gray with long white and gray guard hairs giving an overall scruffy appearance. Has bright yellow-green eyeshine at night.

Dimensions 350-940mm, 215-470mm, ? 800-6500g; / 300-3700g

Breeding For a mammal of its size, opossums have remarkable reproductive potential and very high turnover in their population. Females typically have one litter of 7-9 young, although in the south some females may have a second litter. Babies are born after only a 2-week pregnancy, but grow for another 8 weeks in their mother’s pouch. Survival is low and the oldest known wild opossum was 36 months old when last captured.

Habitat Cities, suburbs & towns, Forests & woodlands, Scrub, shrub & brushlands, Swamps, marshes & bogs

Range Plains, Great Lakes, New England, Mid-Atlantic, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Florida, Texas, California, Northwest, Eastern Canada, Western Canada

Discussion Known for “playing possum,” a catatonic state assumed in the face of danger. Although it is omnivorous, its slow reflexes make it a better scavenger than active hunter. Diet typically includes a mixture of locally abundant fruits, grains, grubs, and carrion. Nocturnal and primarily terrestrial, opossums are also adept climbers and can exploit fruiting trees. These slow mammals are frequent roadkills, and are often preyed on by predators such as coyotes. Surviving the winter in northern areas requires the use of human houses, barns or sheds as dens. In the south they use a wide variety of woodland habitats. In the northern