The Virginia Opossum also known as the North American Opossum inhabits vast territories in North and South Americas. Interestingly it is the only marsupial (an animal with a pouch) north of Rio Grande. The Opposum originated somewhere in South America and has been spreading north ever since. The name comes from Alonquian language (language spoken by native Americans) word ‘wapathemwa’ that means the white animal.
The Virginia Opossum resembles a cat in its size. It carries its offspring in its pouch that opens on the back, making it similar to a backpack. The animal has messy fur, thin muffle, large naked ears and a long tail that can be used to grab stuff and helps when the small mammal is climbing trees.
Besides the opossums that live in urban or suburban territories, a specimen usually takes up 0.3 square-kilometers as its territory, usually somewhere near water. Most of the time is spent on the ground but in situations of danger or when looking for food, an opossum can climb trees pretty well. An interesting habit for young opossums is to hang upside down from a branch – a reasonable explanation has not been found for this behavior.
A young Virgina Opossum on a very small branch
Opossums usually live in tree cavities that can be accessed from the ground level or in holes dug by other animals. To make the lair more comfortable they often use leaves that they gather and stick to their stomach while pressing them with the tail.
The Opossums usually are about half (1.5 ft) a meter long with the tail sometimes being as long. They usually weigh two to five kilos. The Virginia Opossum usually reaches sexual maturity at the age of one year and females give birth to up to 14 babies. Interestingly the labor is very easy for opossum females – it usually takes five minutes and you can fit 24 baby opossums in a spoon as they weigh only 0,16 grams. This is necessary as the average life-span of an opossum is only two years so they have to reproduce fast.
In the southern states of the United States of America opossum meat is considered a delicacy and they are occasionally hunted.
In cold days opossums usually enter a state similar to hibernation when they decrease their heart rate and live off of their fat reserves. Oddly enough opossums also live in areas that cold that tips of their ears and tail die off. The Virginia Opossums eat almost everything – insects, small mammals, garbage and in winters when food gets scarcer they sometimes turn vegetarian. Vision and smell are not the most developed senses for this mammal, however their hearing is excellent.
The most known fact about opossums probably is that they play dead. When a threat appears, the opossums fall on the ground and stick their tongue out. The mechanism how this works has not been fully studied, but scientists believe that in cases of extreme stress a specific chemical is released.
An Opossum playing dead