The opossum is a North American marsupial with a white face and a gray-white body. It belongs to the family of Didelphidae. The name opossum was given by an English colonist, named John Smith, of Jamestown colony in the 1600s. Therefore, the common name for opossum is the Virginia opossum of North America.
The opossum is a small, nocturnal marsupial that feeds on nectar and pollen, but also on meat. It is very light and has a non-mammalian lifestyle. So far, no fossil similar to the opossum has been found, which makes this animal unique.
The Virginia opossums are the largest marsupials in the Western Hemisphere. They are also called “possums” for convenience. The opossum has its roots in the word “aposoum” which means “white beast”.
The Virginia opossum sleeps during the day in hidden places they leave at sunset. Their body is adapted to climbing, having their tail longer than their body. They are very small mammals, having a maximum of 94 cm in length, from head to tail, and weighing up to 6 kg, which means that any branch can support them. Their fur is reddish brown, and on the belly, they have a lighter shade.
These animals feed both on the nectar of fruit and pollen, and on meat, using their long nose and narrow tongue for this purpose. The tail helps them reach the flowers – no branch breaks under the small weight of the possum. The animal’s tongue is relatively long, reaching up to 3 cm, facilitating its feeding.
Opossums are omnivorous animals and have a very diverse diet. They feed on insects, frogs, birds, snakes, small mammals, earthworms, etc. They also eat fruits, other foods around man’s house, or debris from their waste.
The Virginia opossums are small and medium-sized marsupials, from mouse-sized specimens to slightly larger than ordinary domestic cats. Only females have marsupials. They are animals that live in trees, some species are omnivorous, and some are vegetarian. The incisors are very small, but the canines are large.
You might also like my articles on interesting facts about chinchillas, bobcats, or capybaras.
They use all their legs when they move. The opposable finger does not have a claw. The possum has an enviable immune system. This is seen in how their body reacts to the venom of the rattlesnake, for example, or other vipers, to which they are partially immune or in some cases even totally. The chance of getting sick, when compared to a dog, is less than 800 times.
The Virginia opossum is usually solitary, staying in an area as long as it finds food and water easily accessible. It temporarily occupies abandoned burrows and does not make any effort to dig too much.
They are nocturnal animals, and like all nocturnal animals, they prefer dark areas. These areas may be below ground level or not.
When they are in danger or feel threatened, they mimic the behavior of a sick or dead animal and scatter a smell of putrefaction into the air. The lips are pulled back, the teeth pulled out, and the bad smell is released by the anal glands.
Offspring can hang on the tail, but adults cannot because they are too heavy. In defense, besides showing their teeth they make another unspeakable hissing to intimidate the enemy.
The opossum has a reproduction cycle similar to that of kangaroos. Offspring are born early, after a gestation period of about 1 month.
Once born, the young must find their way to the marsupium. Sexual dimorphism is seen almost clear from the beginning. Males are larger, heavier, and have larger canines than females. Couples mate several times, as this increases the chance of fertilization.
Females give birth to a large number of puppies, sometimes as many as 13, depending on the species. Offspring are weaned after 70 to 125 days. The female also places them in bird nests or in shielded places in trees and brings them food.
The opossum reaches sexual maturity at 6-7 months, and its life span is unusually short for a mammal of its size. Only 2 to 7 years.
Because they live only in the southwestern parts of Australia, they do not have to build a shelter. However, when it gets cold, they organize themselves into groups and heat each other up, thus conserving their energy.
The Virginia opossum is not endangered, nor humans are a danger to them. In the United States, as well as in Australia, they have become pets, being very loved by both children and adults.
The legs and ears of the Virginia opossum are black.
The most special feature of the opossum is its rat-like tail. The opossum is generally considered an ugly and scary animal because of its tail.
Opossums can mimic the smell and appearance of a sick or dead animal when threatened. This is called the “possessive game”. This behavior is behind the expression “playing ‘possum”, meaning “playing dead”.
The opossum is an animal with very thick fur and small legs, but one that has something in common with humans, the five fingers.
Opossums are rare for European territory, although in their habitats they are very common animals. Their distinguishing feature is their great adaptability to environmental conditions. This explains that, for all times of existence, they were able to survive without significant changes.
To date, their favorite places are urban neighborhoods, where they can be found mainly near garbage piles. The opossum’s an omnivore, so it doesn’t refuse anything. However, they can pose a serious danger to humans, because their poor hygiene can be the source of the spread of dangerous diseases and parasites.