Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
Virginia Opossum
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Virginia Opossum

Virginia Opossum
Scientific classification
Binomial name
Didelphis virginiana
The Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) is the only marsupial found in North America. A solitary and nocturnal animal about the size of a domestic cat, it is a successful opportunist and is found throughout North America from coast to coast, and from Central America and Mexico to southern Canada and seems to be still expanding its range northward. It is often seen near towns, rummaging through garbage cans, or dead by the side of the road.

The Virginia Opossum is an excellent climber and is largely arboreal, though it is equally at home on the ground. Its diet is largely carrion, but also includes insects, worms, frogs, birds, and small animals of every kind; plus fruit, berries, and grains.

Virginia Opossums nest in burrows abandoned by other creatures, hollow logs, and other sheltered places, lining the area with leaves. Gestation is less than two weeks, and the young are carried for the next two months in the mother's pouch—which unlike the forward or backward-facing pouches of most marsupials, has a vertical entrance—and suckle from one or another of her 13 nipples.

The Virginia Opossum is noted for its reaction to threat, which is to feign death. This is called "playing (o)possum". At other times, however, it will put on an aggressive display, hissing, screeching, and showing its teeth.

The Virginia Opossum is the original animal named "opossum". The word comes from Algonquian wapathemwa, not Greek or Latin, so the plural is opossums. It is usually pronounced without the leading "O". It has given its name to many other animals that resemble in appearance and behaviour: the South American opossums (which are reasonably close relatives) and the possums of Australia (which are only very distantly related).

See also