North American Opossum

North American Opossum


North America: New Hampshire to Colorado, from southern Ontario to Costa Rica.


Usually found in moist woodlands or thick and brushy areas, frequently near streams or swamps. Anywhere except high mountains.


The general appearance is rat-like. The muzzle is pointed, the naked ears are fan-shaped and the dark eyes are small. The body is large with short legs. There are five digits on each limb; the clawless big toes on the hind limbs are opposable. The semi-prehensile tail is naked. The rough fur varies from black to white, most often being silver with darker fur along the back and limbs. The tail is flesh-colored, frequently the toes and ears are mottled. The opossum is notable for its large canines, especially the male's; it has 50 teeth.

North American Opossum

The opossum is basically nocturnal and sedentary, rarely leaving its home range of 6 - 7 acres. It may be arboreal or terrestrial, depending upon its habitat. It sleeps in a hollow tree or digs a burrow, often enlarging an abandoned burrow. It is also a good swimmer. It is inactive during a severe winter but does not hibernate. The phrase "playing possum" has come from the habit of an opossum feigning death when frightened. If attacked, the opossum suddenly goes limp, rolling over with the eyes shut and the tongue lolling out as if dead. After a few minutes the animal gradually recovers and runs off. Experiments with electroencephalograms show that opossums are normal and in a highly alert behavioral state when "playing possum" and not in a trance or cataleptic state. However, an opossum can be a formidable adversary if it chooses to fight. It is solitary and anti-social to others in the wild.


Opposums mate in mid-December to March or in spring to early summer. Ther are two litters per year in most areas. After a gestation of two weeks, a litter of 8 - 25 young are born and make their way up the mother's abdomen to the pouch. Only 13 survive due to the number of teats. the young remain in the pouch for 3 months attached to the teats and grow 10 times their birth weight within the first week. When they emerge from the well-developed pouch, the young ride on the mother's back with their tails entwined in her fur. The young are independent at 4 months and sexually mature at 6 - 8 months. The female may not be able to reproduce after 2 years.

About Our Animals:

This animal is not currently on display at the Zoo.

North American Opossum
Class: mammals
Order: Marsupialia
Family: Didelphidae
Genus: Didelphis
Species: Virginiana
Length: 18 inches
Weight: 8 - 10 pounds
Average Lifespan: 2.5
Wild Diet: Omnivorous. Carrion, mice, reptiles, fruit, vegetables, leaves.
Predators: Man and large carnivores.
USFWS Status: Not Listed
CITES Status: Not Listed
Where at the Zoo? Off Exhibit: Education Animal Facility

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