They are found from southern Canada, throughout the U.S., into Mexico and Central America (and spreading).
They live in woodlands, along streams, around farms, in neigborhoods, and cities. They can live in most habitats that are not too dry or cold, as long as their is a food source.
They reach about 20 inches long (50cm) and weigh up to 12-14 pounds (6kg). Females are smaller than males. They are mostly grayish colored (though their fur can vary in color from white, reddish-borwn to black). They have a white, pointed face, pink nose and thin, round, hairless, dark ears. They have a long, pink, hairless, rounded tail, like a giant rat’s tail. It can be used to wrap around things like fingers (prehensile). They have 50 tiny teeth - the most of any mammal in North America. Their back feet have usable, clawless thumbs (opposable) that help in climbing. They have a belly pouch where their young stay protected and nurse (marsupials). They are the only marsupial in North America.
They are active at night (nocturnal). They live alone (solitary) except to mate or a female with young. They are well adapted to living near people and will wander around raiding garbage cans and grain bins. When approached, they bare their many sharp teeth and growl. They also may “play dead” and lie still, their eyes and mouth open. They even emit a smell like rotting flesh. This is an amazing adaptation to discourage predators. They den in abandoned burrows, tree holes or human-made structures. They can climb trees.
They will eat almost anything; fruit, plants, nuts, eggs, insects, rodents and poultry (omnivores) and even dead animals (carrion).
They are killed by dogs, cats, foxes and people (road traffic).
Because they are marsupials, their reproduction is very different than all the other mammals in North America. They are pregnant for less than 2 weeks (8-10 day gestation) and give birth to up to 20 tiny babies (all of them together could fit in a teaspoon at birth). They crawl into the pouch and attach to a nipple and nurse. They stay in the pouch for 2 months. When they finally come out of the pouch, they often ride on their mother’s back. Females have 1-3 litters a year with up to 13 young per litter. There is a high mortality rate for young.
Opossums have a short lifespan, depending upon predation and winter temperatures (and road traffic) in their habitat. Generally, they only live 1-2 years in the wild, but can live up to 4 years in captivity. There is a high mortality rate among newborn opossums with only about 40% reaching a year old. They are listed as Lower Risk - least concern.
Species: Didelphis virginiana
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Amsel, Sheri. "Opossum" Exploring Nature Educational Resource ©2005-2023. September 27, 2023
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