The Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) is North America’s only marsupial. It is only the size of a domestic cat weighing up to 15 pounds. Adult males are bigger than females. Virginia opossums are mainly recognized by their grayish black hair. They have pink nose and narrow snout. Like Australia possums, Virginia opossums have long tail—reaching the length of its body. They are strictly nocturnal animals. Opossums are thought to be successful opportunist.
North America’s only Marsupial – Virginia Opossum Facts
Physical Characteristics and Description
Virginia opossums have varied sizes and weights. The northern population appears to be bigger than the one inhabiting tropics.
Adult opossums reach the overall length of 13–37 in (35–94 cm) with the tail measuring at 8.5–19 in (21.6–47 cm).
Males weigh around 1.7 to 14 lb (0.8–6.4 kg) while females average 8.2 lb (0.3–3.7 kg). There is so much variation in the size of Virginia opossum that the northern population is 20 times the size of tropical population.
The opossum’s body is covered with black and white hairs whereas its face and tail are hairless.
Virginia opossums have 50 teeth and their thumbs lack claws. They use their long tail to grab branches. The female opossums have 13 nipples.
Virginia Opossum Tracks
- Like raccoon, opossum’s each foot has also five toes but the tracks of two animals are quite different.
- The length of opossum’s tracks is 1.9 inch with its width measuring at 2.0 inches. Virginia opossums have the same pacing gait like woodchucks, raccoons, beavers, skunks, and badgers.
- Opossums are able to take a long stride of 7 to 10 in, or 18 to 25 cm.
Virginia Opossum Playing Dead – Behavior
- Opossums are generally infamous for paying dead behavior—the behavior commonly known as playing possum. According to studies, this behavior isn’t triggered deliberately; it is an involuntary reaction activated by extreme fear instead.
- Nonetheless, opossums likely respond strongly against any probable threat and they sound like screeching and hissing.
- The opossum can continue to play dead for as long as six hours. The reaction stops immediately when it gets away with the threat.
- Virginia opossums are strictly nocturnal. They emerge from dusk to dawn. They are pretty submissive and shy animals.
Virginia Opossum Habitat
- The primary habitat of Virginia opossum is wooded area particularly the one adjacent to water.
- Opossums also inhabit near human settlements.
- They will not build their dens. Opossums are known to occupy abandoned dens or burrows. They may also find shelter in old buildings or hollow trees and fallen logs.
- The average home range is 12 to 264 acres.
Geographic Range and Distribution
- Virginia opossums are widely distributed in Illinois. The largest population in the southern state is found in Mississippi, Ohio rivers, and Wabash.
- During summer, around 300 individuals occur ever square mile. They become particularly abundant in midsummer.
What Do Virginia Opossums Eat? – Virginia Opossum Diet
- Opossums rely on animals and plants including grains, carrion, mice, fruits, snails, snakes, small animals, birds, and earthworms. Virginia opossums are omnivores.
- They are immune to snake’s venom. Virginia opossums are most likely to feed on persimmons. The captive specimens can also eat their own species but wild individuals do not appear to show any kind of cannibalism.
- Opossums remain active all year round; they never hibernate—not even in extreme cold.
- They are scavengers too. The carrion makes up much of their diet. Like Tasmanian devils, most opossums also killed by road vehicles.
Lifespan, Predators and Reproductive Biology
- Virginia opossum begins to mate in December and continues to breed till October. The peak mating months range from February and June.
- A female likely produces 1 to 3 litters annually. The birth occurs in February and June. During breeding season, the female gets attracted by the male that produces clicking sounds.
- The Virginia opossum female produces as many as 50 young (20 – 30 are common) but it can feed only 13 young at a time. The female has only 13 teats. The young joeys come out of pouch after about 100 days but they remain with their mother for as long as 120 to 150 days.
- The average life expectancy of a Virginia opossum is about 2 years in its natural habitat.
- Predators of Virginia opossum are great horned owl, snakes, foxes, coyotes, dogs, raccoons, raptors, and bobcats.