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Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana)

Virginia Opossum
Didelphis virginiana
(Order Didelphimorphia, Family Didelphidae)


Adult opossum.  Image from http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/opossum/

Diagnosis: Virginia opossums have long flat skinny snouts and hairless ears. They have long hairless prehensile tails that can grab objects such as branches. The fur on their body is gray and their face fur is white. Their back feet have opposable thumbs. They average about 76 cm from their nose to their tail.

Natural History: Opossums are known for their defense mechanism of playing dead when threatened. They are the only marsupials found in the US or Canada. Females give birth to very small young that then crawl into her pouch where they continue developing. They stay primarily in the pouch or on their mother’s back until they are weaned after about 100 days.


Young opossum.  Image from http://www.kdwpt.state.ks.us/news/KDWPT-Info/Locations/Museums-and-Natur...


Distribution: Virginia Opossums are found east of the rockies all the way from Canada to Costa Rica. It was introduced on the west coast and is still expanding it's range.


Distribution of Virginia opossum (green). Map from http://www.cfr.msstate.edu/wildlife/mammals/?a=detail&id=1

Habitat: Didelphus virginiana spend a majority of their time in trees, being well adapted for climbing. They nest in hollow holes in trees or in dens made by other animals.

Diet: Opossums scavenge for most of their food. They enjoy carrion and road but also eat grass, nuts, fruit, small rodents, birds, insects, and snakes. Often they will find food in trash cans in urban areas.

Species Status: Stable


Video: Looking at a baby Viriginia Opossum


Links:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_opossum
National Geographic: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/opossum/
KDWPT: http://www.kdwpt.state.ks.us/news/Hunting/Furharvesting/Furbearers/Virgi...


References:
Guilday, John  E. “The Prehistoric Distribution of the Opossum.” Journal of Mammalogy 39.1 (1958) 39-43.

Kanda, L. Leann, Todd K. Fuller, Paul R. Sievert. “Landscape Associations of Road-killed Virginia Opossums (Didelphis virginiana) in Central Massachusetts.” The American Midland Naturalist 156.1 (2006)128-134.

Wright, Jeffrey D., M. Scott Burt, and Victoria L. Jackson. “Influences of an Urban Environment on Home Range and Body Mass of Virginia Opossums (Didelphis virginiana).” Northeastern Naturalist 19.1 (2012) 77-86.

 

Submitted by:  Corinne Juju Wellemeyer, August 2013.

Wichita State University
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