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Virginia Opossum

Didelphis virginiana

Opossums den in hollow logs, tree cavities, rock piles, old nests and burrows, and under decks and buildings. (stevehdc, Flickr)
Opossums den in hollow logs, tree cavities, rock piles, old nests and burrows, and under decks and buildings. (stevehdc, Flickr)

The Virginia opossum is a gray, heavyset mammal found throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Appearance:

  • Heavyset body covered with grayish fur
  • White face
  • Thin, black ears
  • Long head with a pointed snout, long whiskers and 50 sharp teeth
  • Long, tapered, scaly tail
  • Five toes on each foot. One toe is opposable.
  • Grows to about 25-40 inches long and weighs 4-14 pounds
  • Males are usually larger than females

Habitat:

  • Prefers wet areas such as swamps, but also found in forests, farmland and developed areas such as cities and suburbs
  • Spends much of its time in trees
  • Dens in hollow logs, tree cavities, rock piles, old nests and burrows, and under decks and buildings
  • Does not hibernate in winter
  • Females may live in groups but males are solitary
  • Nocturnal

Range:

  • Found throughout the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed
  • Has a minimum home range of 11 miles

Feeding:

  • Consumes a wide variety of plants and animals
  • Eats mostly insects and dead animals, but will also eat just about anything else, including fruits, seeds, snakes, mice, frogs and garbage

Predators:

  • Predators include owls, hawks, red foxes, cats, dogs and humans
  • Protects itself from predators by “playing dead,” since most predators will not eat an animal that is already dead. This is actually an involuntary reaction due to shock. The opossum falls onto the ground and lies motionless on its side with its eyes and mouth open. It awakens with the danger passes.
  • May also try to bluff a predators into thinking it is aggressive by hissing and baring its teeth when it feels threatened
  • Most opossums are killed by cars because they have poor hearing and eyesight

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Mates between January-July
  • After 12-13 days, the female gives birth to a litter of 7-9 young that are about the size of a dime
  • The tiny young crawl into their mother’s belly pouch and attach to a nipple. They remain in the pouch for about two months to develop.
  • After they leave her pouch, the female carries her young on her back when she travels
  • Young remain with the female until they are about 4 months old
  • Reaches sexual maturity at 6-12 months old
  • Rarely lives longer than 18 months

Other Facts:

  • The only marsupial native to North America
  • Name comes from the Algonquian word apassum, meaning “white beast”
  • The oldest opossum ever collected in the wild was 3 years old
  • An excellent climber that uses its toes and tail to grasp branches
  • Very susceptible to frostbite. It is not unusual to see an opossum that is missing an ear, toes or the tip of its tail.

Sources and Additional Information:

Places:




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