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Opossum Facts

The Virginia Opossum, first named an opossum, was one of the few South American marsupials to establish itself in North America after the Great American Interchange.

Opossum Facts for Kids

  • They eat fruit, nuts, insects, frogs, lizards, eggs, and plants. 
  • They even eat garbage and dead animals.
  • Their average lifespan in 2-4 years
  • Opossums are usually solitary,
  • They stay in one area as long as food and water are easily available.  
  • They will temporarily occupy abandoned burrows.

Life Cycle

Opossums are born in a pouch and must find their way into the pouch to nurse off a teat. They are weaned after 70-125 days.

The opossum’s reproductive system is split into an ovary, uterus, and pouch, and the young must find their way into the pouch to nurse from a teat. Opossums live for only one to two years in the wild and as long as four years in captivity.

Behavior

Opossums prefer to stay in one area as long as food and water are easily available, and they will often group together in abandoned burrows.

When threatened or harmed, opossums will “play possum,” which is a physiological response. When threatened, their eyes are closed, lips are drawn back, teeth are bared, saliva foams around their mouth, they close their eyes, and they secrete a foul-smelling fluid.

Some species of opossums have prehensile tails, which they may use for climbing, grabbing leaves or bedding materials, and even carrying their young.

Threatened opossums will growl deeply and raise their pitch as the threat becomes more urgent, while baby opossums make sneezing noises and will hiss when threatened.

Diet

Possums eat dead animals, insects, rodents, birds, eggs, fruits and grain, and can also eat human food waste.

Facts for Kids
Facts for Kids

Habitat

They are found in North, Central, and South America. The Virginia opossum can be found in wooded areas, but their habitats vary widely.

People Eat Opossums 

The possum was once widely hunted and consumed in the United States and has been included in the cuisine of South Carolina and the United States.

In Dominica, Grenada, Trinidad, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, opossum meat is eaten during certain times of the year. The musk glands must be removed.

In northern/central Mexico and the Yucatec Mayan language, opossum tails are eaten as a folk remedy to improve fertility. Opossum pelts are used in the fur trade.

Species of Opossum

There are over 100 different types of opossums, from pocket-sized pygmy opossums to cat-sized Virginia opossums. 

There is only one marsupial native to North America in this Didelphidae family, the Virginia opossum Didelphis virginiana.

Common opossum

The common opossum (Didelphis marsupialis) lives from northeast Mexico to Bolivia, including Trinidad and Tobago. It prefers the woods but can also live in fields and cities.

They are often found in tropical and subtropical forests and will dig a burrow in any dark location, although they do not spend as much time underground when it is the dry season.

The common opossum is similar in size to a house cat but is covered by long black guard hairs. It is a large, hairless creature but has black whiskers and eyes that reflect reddish light.

Virginia opossum

The Virginia opossum, which is the northernmost opossum and the northernmost marsupial, is a nocturnal, solitary animal about the size of a domestic cat.

Opossums are familiar to many North Americans, as they frequently live near trash cans and other food sources.

The Virginia opossum evolved in South America and was one of the first migrants to North America.

Opossums usually eat fruits and vegetables in late summer and early winter and sometimes eat bird feeders and garbage cans.

Water opossum

The water opossum, also known as the yapok, is a marsupial that lives in burrows and swims to find fish, crustaceans, and other aquatic animals to eat on the bank of freshwater streams and lakes.

The water opossum is a small opossum with a webbed tail and webbed back feet. It has a light band across its forehead and opalescent yellowtail.

The water opossum has a long tail, webbed hindfeet, and short fur. It uses alternate strokes for propulsion through the water.

Gray short-tailed opossum

The gray short-tailed opossum is a small South American marsupial that lacks a pouch. It is also used as a model for scientific research and is frequently found in the exotic pet trade.

A gray short-tailed opossum is a small animal with a semi-prehensile tail and a head-body length of 12 to 18 cm.

The fur of the wallaby is greyish brown, with white fur on the feet. It has well-developed claws and small pads marked with fine dermal ridges.

Gray short-tailed opossums eat rodents, frogs, reptiles, invertebrates, and fruit. They scavenge by scent and can take prey up to their own size.

Gray four-eyed opossum

The gray four-eyed opossum is found from southern Mexico to Bolivia and southwestern Brazil. Its habitats include primary, secondary, and disturbed forests.

”’The gray four-eyed opossum is nocturnal, solitary, and partly arboreal. It is omnivorous, feeding on small animals and vegetation, such as leaves, seeds, and fruits.”’

Gray four-eyed opossums roll up into a ball while sleeping and have white patches of fur above their eyes.

The gray four-eyed opossum has an omnivorous diet containing fruits, nectar, insects, small mammals (such as mice), birds, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans, snails, and earthworms. It also encounters and eats venomous snakes.