Virginia Opossum

Virginia Opossum



COMMON NAME: Virginia opossum, common opossum, possum
KINGDOM: Animalia
PHYLUM: Chordata
CLASS: Mammalia
ORDER: Didelphimorphia
FAMILY: Didelphidae
GENUS SPECIES: Didelphis (two wombs) virginiana (originating from Virginia)


DESCRIPTION: The Virginia opossum is gray or black with white-tipped guard hairs and a long, pointed snout. The tail slightly prehensile (grasping) and mostly hairless.
SIZE: Approximately 609-914 mm (24-36 inches)
WEIGHT: 2.7-5.9 kg (6-13 lbs.)
DIET: Omnivorous; feeds on small vertebrates, carrion, invertebrates, and plant matter
GESTATION: Gestation lasts 13-14 days. The newborn young crawl into the pouch at this time and remain in the pouch for 60 days. Mature females may have two litters per year.
NURSING DURATION They are weaned at abound 100 days.
SEXUAL MATURITY: Approximately 1 year
LIFE SPAN: 2-3 years wild; 4-7 years managed
RANGE: Costa Rica north through Mexico and the central and eastern half of the United States to southeastern Canada
HABITAT: Found in woodlands or thick brush, usually near water
STATUS: IUCN Not listed
CITES Not listed
USFWS Not listed


1. The Virginia (or common) opossum is the only North American marsupial. A marsupial is a mammal that has a pouch where it carries its young. The young opossums are not fully developed when they enter the pouch.
2. Young opossums must spend the first two months of their life in their mother's pouch.
3. Opossum is an Algonquin Indian name meaning "white animal." The term "marsupial" comes from the Latin word "marsupium," which refers to the pouch where the young are carried.
4. From prehistoric time to modern day, the opossum is virtually unchanged. Some scientists refer to it as a living fossil.
5. Opossums are crepuscular and nocturnal, spending most of this time searching for food. They have a keen sense of smell and may also rely on touch to find food.
6. When frightened or startled, opossums can feign death (or 'play possum'). Curled up on the ground with its mouth open and tongue hanging out, the opossum appears dead. They may also release fecal matter and release a green, foul-smelling mucus excreted from its anal glands. Their breathing slows and stays that way for a few minutes up to several hours. During this display, they can be poked and prodded or even bitten by another animal without giving any signs of suffering. Playing possum may allow these animals to escape predation since most predators will not eat carrion or dead animals. Scientists have yet to determine whether feigning death is deliberate or an involuntary reaction. Some believe chemicals are released into the brain and cause a temporary coma, but recordings of brain activity show that the opossum is in a highly alert state while feigning death.
7. Opossums have fifty razor sharp teeth; the highest number of teeth found in any land mammal.


Opossums are scavengers, which makes them extremely important to any habitat. By eating carrion, they lower the risk of spreading disease in the area.


Grzimek, Dr. Bernhard. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals: Vol. 1. McGraw-Hill Publishing Co. New York, 1990.

Nowak, R. M. Walker's Mammals of the World: Volume 1, 5th Ed.; The Johns Hopkins University Press; Baltimore and London, 1991.

West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. Wonderful West Virginia Magazine.