Natural Histories

photograph of a Sunda Pangolin

Virginia opossum

Didelphis virginiana


The Virginia opossum has a heavy body, resembling a large house cat, a long head and pointed snout with long whiskers. They have long tapered tales that appear scaly. Fur coloration varies region, northern populations have thick, white undercoats with black tips while southern populations do not have a thick undercoat. Both northern and southern populations have white fur on their cheeks and face. Male opossum tend to be larger than the females. The opossum has a prehensile tail used for grasping tree limbs. Also to aid in grasping limbs, they have opposable hallux, which is similar to a thumb, on its rear feet.


Found in from Central America through the United States east of the Rocky Mountains and north into southwestern Ontario. Some may also be found along the west coast of the U.S. Virginia opossums can live in a variety of habitats from arid to mesic environments, preferring wet locations such as streams and swamps.

Feeding Behavior and Diet

This species is omnivorous, eating insects, carrion (dead carcass of other animals), plants, fruits and grains. The Virginia opossum is a scavenger, wandering around and eating whatever it may find without killing prey.


The Virginia opossum is North America’s only marsupial. Female opossums have a fur lined pouch she uses to carry her young (a characteristic of marsupials including the kangaroo). A female can have as many as 25 young in one litter. When the young are born they are the size of a navy bean and must climb up the mother’s fur and climb into her pouch. If these tiny babies make the climb to the pouch, they suckle on one of 13 teats (meaning only 13 will sirvive). After 55-60 days of suckling in the pouch, a mother opossum will transport her young by placing them on her back and tail for six weeks. Females can have three litters every year.

Months and Times of Activity

Opossums are nocturnal marsupials with poor social development. Males are aggressive when together, while the females live in groups.

Special Features, Stories, Relationships

•    Opossums can become aggressive when threatened, using intimidation as their defense strategy. When confronted by a more powerful threat, opossums will play dead; this is known as “playing possum”. This is more than just good acting, the opossum actually goes into a catatonic state (they go limp, their breathing becomes almost undetectable, and even begin to smell of rotting material). They stay in this state until the danger passes.
•    Opossums wash their faces with their forefeet as a method of grooming.
•    For myths and legends featuring Virginia opossums go to:
•    Children’s book featuring this animal: Lucy A Virginia Opossum by Bonnie Highsmith Taylor


Siciliano Martina, L. 2013. "Didelphis virginiana" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 04, 2014 at
"Virginia Opossum - Didelphis virginiana." Nature Works. New Hampshire Public Television, 2013. Web. 12 Feb. 2013.