The only marsupial (pouched mammal) in North America, the opossum eats almost anything. Females usually have two litters per year.
Click on the language to view common names.
Common Names in English:
North American opossum, virginia opossom, virginia opossum, Virginian Opossum
Common Names in French:
Sarigue De Virginie, Opossum D'am, opossum d'AmÃ©rique, opossum d'Amérique
Common Names in Russian:
Common Names in Spanish:
Tlacuache Norte, Tlacuache norteÃ±o, Tlacuache norteño
Species Didelphis virginiana
The unmistakable Opossum is generally about the size of a plump house
cat, with a long, naked prehensile
(grasping) tail, a white face
with a pointed
snout, and naked leaf-like ears. Opossum feet are
shaped somewhat like human hands, with an opposable thumb on the
hind feet. This is North America's only marsupial.
The genus name Didelphis is from the Greek prefix di (two) and the Greek word delphys (womb), or "two wombs," a reference to the paired reproductive tract of female opossums. The species name is the Latinized word meaning "of Virginia," which refers to the state from which the first scientific specimen was collected and described. This species was formerly called the Virginia Opossum, but is now considered to be the same species as the one in Mexico.
The coarse , grizzled fur is generally grayish but can vary from white to brown to black.
The head and body are 38 - 51 cm (15 - 20 in) long. Weight , 4 - 6 kg (8.8 - 13.2 lb ).
Typically found at an altitude of 0 to 2,458 meters (0 to 8,064 feet).
This species is found in a variety of habitats
, ranging from relatively
environments. They prefer wet areas, however, especially
woodlands and thickets near streams
. Also in suburban
areas. The opportunistic
denning and feeding habits of the Virginia
opossum has led to the success of the species, especially in areas
of habitat fragmentation. High reproductive potential
to increasing population size (McManus, 1974). Abandoned burrows,
buildings, hollow logs
, and tree
cavities are generally used for
List of Habitats:
- 1 Forest
- 1.4 Forest - Temperate
- 1.5 Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Dry
- 1.6 Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Moist Lowland
- 1.7 Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Mangrove Vegetation Above High Tide Level
- 1.8 Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Swamp
- 1.9 Forest - Subtropical/Tropical Moist Montane
- 3 Shrubland
- 3.4 Shrubland - Temperate
- 14 Artificial/Terrestrial
- 14.3 Artificial/Terrestrial - Plantations
- 14.4 Artificial/Terrestrial - Rural Gardens
- 14.5 Artificial/Terrestrial - Urban Areas
- 14.6 Artificial/Terrestrial - Subtropical/Tropical Heavily Degraded Former Forest [more info]
The Opossum is generally nocturnal , actively foraging for food at night. The species is omnivorous , eating both plants and animals. Its diet includes, fruits, berries , insects, crayfish, small rodents, carrion (dead animal flesh), and even human garbage. The prehensile tail and opposable thumb on the hind feet help the Opossum climb trees in search of bird eggs and young.
The Opossum is related to kangaroos because it rears its young in a pouch, a fact which makes it unique among North American mammals. The Opossum breeds from January to mid-summer, generally producing 2 litters a year. From 3 to 25 naked, embryo-like young are born about 2 weeks after mating. At birth the young crawl to the pouch where they attach to one of 12 to 13 nipples . Only those that attach to a nipple will live, and generally only 6 or 7 young survive to leave the pouch. At 2 months, the young detach from the nipple but remain in the pouch. They leave the pouch when 70 - 80 days old. The young will then hang onto the mother's back as she forages and will begin to eat solid foods. At 100 days, the young become independent and leave the mother.
This adaptable animal is quite successful at surviving in residential and suburban areas, but is no match for vehicular traffic. It is one of the most frequently observed dead animals on roadways in both rural and urban habitats . If attacked or tormented by a potential predator , an opossum will feign death by going limp and appear quite dead, the behavior commonly referred to as "playing possum." Once the attack or torment has ended, if still alive, the Opossum will quickly "regain consciousness" and escape .
Preyed upon by hawks, owls, foxes, the Bobcat, the Coyote, and humans.
- Whittaker & Margulis,1978
- C. Linnaeus, 1758
- (Hatschek, 1888) Cavalier-Smith, 1983
- Grobben, 1908
- (Haeckel, 1874) Cavalier-Smith, 1998
- Bateson, 1885
- Cuvier, 1812
- Jawed Vertebrates
- Goodrich, 1930
- C. Linnaeus, 1758
- (Rowe, 1988) M.C. McKenna & S.K. Bell, 1997
- (Wible et al., 1995) M.C. McKenna & S.K. Bell, 1997
- McKenna, 1975
- McKenna, 1975
- McKenna, 1975
- (McKenna, 1975) M.C. McKenna & S.K. Bell, 1997
- (Parker & Haswell, 1897) M.C. McKenna & S.K. Bell, 1997
- (Illiger, 1811) M.C. McKenna & S.K. Bell, 1997
- Magnorder: Ameridelphia () - (Szalay, in Archer, Ed., 1982) M.c. Mckenna & S.k. Bell, 1997
- Cohort: Marsupialia () - (Illiger, 1811) M.C. McKenna & S.K. Bell, 1997
- Supercohort: Theria () - (Parker & Haswell, 1897) M.C. McKenna & S.K. Bell, 1997
- Infralegion: Tribosphenida () - (McKenna, 1975) M.C. McKenna & S.K. Bell, 1997
- Sublegion: Zatheria () - McKenna, 1975
- Legion: Cladotheria () - McKenna, 1975
- Superlegion: Trechnotheria () - McKenna, 1975
- Infraclass: Holotheria () - (Wible et al., 1995) M.C. McKenna & S.K. Bell, 1997
- Subclass: Theriiformes () - (Rowe, 1988) M.C. McKenna & S.K. Bell, 1997
- Class: Mammalia () - C. Linnaeus, 1758
- Superclass: Tetrapoda () - Goodrich, 1930
- Infraphylum: Gnathostomata () - auct. - Jawed Vertebrates
- Subphylum: Vertebrata () - Cuvier, 1812 - Vertebrates
- Phylum: Chordata () - Bateson, 1885 - Chordates
- Infrakingdom: Chordonia () - (Haeckel, 1874) Cavalier-Smith, 1998
- Branch: Deuterostomia () - Grobben, 1908
- Subkingdom: Bilateria () - (Hatschek, 1888) Cavalier-Smith, 1983
- Kingdom: Animalia () - C. Linnaeus, 1758 - animals
Status: Accepted Name
First described: Bennett E. T. Aphrophora goudoti nov. sp. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London. London, 14: 9-521., 1833.
Last scrutiny: 28-Nov-2006
No other mammal in North America looks similar to the Opossum.
Members of the genus Didelphis
ZipcodeZoo has pages for 8 species and subspecies in this genus:
D. albiventris (White-Eared Opossum) · D. albiventris albiventris (White-Eared Opossum) · D. aurita (Brazilian Common Opossum) · D. imperfecta (Guianan White-Eared Opossum) · D. marsupialis (Black-Eared Opossum) · D. marsupialis marsupialis (Southern Opossum) · D. pernigra (Andean White-Eared Opossum) · D. virginiana (North American Opossum)
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Accessed through GBIF Data Portal December 09, 2007:
- Berkeley Natural History Museums, University of California Museum of Paleontology DiGIR provider
- Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics, Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics
- Comisión nacional para el conocimiento y uso de la biodiversidad, Colección de Mamíferos de Nuevo León, México
- Field Museum, Mammal specimens
- Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Vertebrate specimens
- Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science, Mammal specimens
- Marine Science Institute, UCSB, Paleobiology Database
- Museum of Texas Tech University
- , Mammal specimens
- Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, Terrestrial vertebrate specimens
- Provider, Online Zoological Collections of Australian Museums
- Royal Ontario Museum, Mammal specimens
- Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Santa Barbara Musem of Natural History
- Sternberg Museum of Natural History, Mammal Collection
- The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx River Bioblitz
- UNIBIO, IBUNAM, CNMA/Coleccion Nacional de Mamiferos
- University of Alaska Museum of the North, University of Alaska Museum Mammal Collection
- University of Alaska Museum of the North, University of New Mexico Museum of Southwestern Biology Mammal Collection
- University of Minnesota Bell Museum of Natural History, Mammal specimens
- University of Washington Burke Museum, Mammal Specimens
- Biodiversity Heritage Library NamebankID: 107317
- Catalogue of Life Accepted Name Code: ITS-709469
- Global Biodiversity Information Facility Taxonkey: 2494459
- Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) Taxonomic Serial Number (TSN): 179921
- IUCN ID: 205338
- Natural Heritage Network Species Identifier: AMAAA01010
- Zipcode Zoo Species Identifier: 1266
- Mean = 322.540 meters (1,058.202 feet), Standard Deviation = 533.170 based on 956 observations. Altitude information for each observation from British Oceanographic Data Centre. [back]
- Cuarón, A.D., Emmons, L., Helgen, K., Reid, F., Lew, D., Patterson, B., Delgado, C. & Solari, S. 2008. Didelphis virginiana. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 31 January 2012. [back]