Opossums

Meet Our Marsupial

Virginia opossums (Didelphis marsupialis) have white fur tipped with gray or black, long snouts with pink noses, bare ears, and hairless tails almost as long as their bodies. (It's not surprising they're sometimes mistaken for giant rats.)

As North America’s only marsupials, opossums develop in an unusual way. After being born, the bumblebee-sized embryonic young must make their way into a pouch on the female abdomen. They'll spend their first 80 days inside the pouch nursing. After that time, they may leave the pouch for short periods, clinging to the female's side and back, but they're not fully on their own for another four to six weeks, when they're 8 to 9 inches long.

Opossums are nocturnal and prefer to live in wooded areas by streams, but urban areas provide adequate food and shelter. They mainly eat carrion (dead animals) but also eat insects, earthworms, eggs, amphibians, fruits and berries.

Opossums  aren't aggressive, but when frightened they may hiss and show their teeth. (They have 50, the most of any North American land mammal.) Their common means of defense, though, is faking death, also known as “playing possum.”

Opossums are good climbers and may shelter during the day in trees or old squirrel nests. Like monkeys, they have prehensile tails, which they can use to hang from branches for short periods of time.

They do not hibernate but may stay in dens for long periods of time, especially in bad weather. Common den sites include abandoned woodchuck burrows, hollow logs, wood or brush piles, crawl spaces, and openings under decks, sheds, patios and porches. 

Opossums breed in late January or early February, and females have litters of seven or eight after just 16 days of gestation. Some may breed a second time in May.