Virginia Opossum

Didelphis virginiana

Copyright, Alden M. Johnson, California Academy of Sciences

Virginia Opossums are medium-sized mammals, about the size of a large housecat. They have whitish-gray fur, but sometimes can be blackish-gray. They have furless, black ears, and a long naked tail. The opposum's tail is prehensile, which means it can grab onto branches.

The head and throat of Virginia Opossums are white. They also have short legs, and female opossums have a pouch.

Virginia Opossums live in thick forests, open woods, brushy wastelands, marshes, and farms. They live by themselves, and only get together during the breeding season.

Virginia Opossums are strictly nocturnal. This means they only come out at night.

Photographer: P. Myers (http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu)

Virginia Opossums can be agressive animals when threatened. They hiss, screech, and show their teeth to predators. They can also squirt a foul-smelling liquid from their rear ends. As a last resort, they will play dead. They roll over, shut their eyes, and stick out their tongue. They are careful not to move until the threat is gone.

These animals are very good climbers.

Breeding season for opossums starts in late winter. Females will have two or three litters each year. Each litter has up to 13 young.

Baby opossums are born much more quickly than other mammals. When they are born, they are about the size of a Honey Bee. Each baby will carefully crawl up its mother's body to enter her pouch. Here, it will attach itself to a nipple and feed. Baby opossums stay in their mother's pouch for two months.

Once they leave the pouch, they will stay awhile longer, clinging to her back as she wanders.

Copyright, Mansell

Virginia Opossums build a leaf nest in a hollow tree, log, rockpile, or abandoned burrow. They do not dig their own burrow, but will enter another animal's, such as that of a skunk or woodchuck. Opossums do not hibernate.

Virginia Opossums eat a wide varitey of foods, including: fruits, berries, insects, crayfish, small mammals, bird eggs, young birds, frogs, earthworms, snakes, lizards, mussels, tadpoles, rabbits, snails, slugs, and other invertebrates. They most important food is carrion (dead animals).

Predators of opossums include hawks, owls, foxes, and humans.

Virginia Opossums communicate with each other with clicking sounds, usually two males threatening each other or a mother calling to her young.

Copyright, Alden M. Johnson, California Academy of Sciences

Copyright, Alden M. Johnson, California Academy of Sciences

Additional Media

Description
Type
Credit
Virginia Opossum Coloring Page
Link to Printable Page
EnchantedLearning.com

Relationships in Nature:

PREY/FOOD
PREDATORS
SHELTER
OTHER

Wild Grape

Red-tailed Hawk

White Oak

Wild Grape D

Highbush Blueberry

Great Horned Owl

American Sycamore

Highbush Blueberry D

Differential Grasshopper

Barred Owl

Silver Maple

Tufted Titmouse SP

Crayfish

Red Fox

Black Willow

Pokeweed D

Meadow Vole

Black Rat Snake

Eastern White Pine

Greenbrier D

Eastern Cottontail

Yellow Poplar

Black Oak

Wood Frog

Smooth Sumac

Black Cherry D

Earthworm

Pokeweed

Evergreen Blackberry D

Copperhead

Loblolly Pine

Eastern Redcedar D

Five-lined Skink

Virginia Rose

Pear-shaped Puffball D

Gray Catbird

Green Hawthorn

Spotted Jewelweed D

Eastern Lamp Mussel

Black Locust

Devil's Beggar-tick D

Northern Ringneck Snake

Bigtooth Aspen

Woodchuck SP

Leopard Slug

Chigger Pa

Patent-leather Beetle

Dung Beetle FP

Field Cricket

Willow Oak

Pokeweed

Greenbrier

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle

Relationship to Humans:

Many people now fear Virginia Opossums becaue of the Rabies Virus, however opossums are not common carriers of the disease. Virginia Opossums can get rabies (like all mammals), but do not typically pass it on to others. Normally opossums are very shy of people and avoid them. They sometimes raid garbage cans at night for food. Overall, Virginia Opossums are very helpful by cleaning up dead animals, and by controlling rodent and insect populations. Some people eat them, and their fur is used to make clothing. Many opossums are killed on roads each year as they try to eat roadkills.

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

KINGDOM
Animal
PHYLUM
Chordate
CLASS
Mammal
ORDER
Didelphimorphia
FAMILY
Didelphidae
GENUS
Didelphis
SPECIES
Didelphis virginiana

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