A marsupial that lives in North America, and is often seen in urban environments. It 'plays dead' when threatened by predators.
35-94cm long, with a 21-47cm tail. Males are larger than females, weighing between 0.8-6.4kg, whilst females weigh 0.3-3.7kg.
Virginia opossums have a cat-like body but with shorter legs, a long, tapered and naked tail, and a long, pointed muzzle. Their hair is long on the body, but rather sparse (especially in the warmer parts of its range). The face is white, with a dark stripe beginning between the ears, and spreading to the rest of the body, which is a brindled grey. The rounded naked ears are black with a white tip or edge, the eyes black, and the long whiskers mostly white (some black) around a pink nose. Their hands and feet are very manipulative, with an opposable big toe, and are pink.
From Mexico and Central America north to southern Ontario. They are expanding northwards.
A variety of habitats, from scrub and woodland to urban, preferring damp areas.
A wide range of foods from fruits to insects and carrion.
Females are tolerant of each other, and may share a daytime resting place, but they are aggressive to males - who are solitary. Active mainly at night, Virginia opossums range widely in search of food.
The phrase 'playing possum' comes from this species. When they are threatened, they pretend to be dead.
Mating takes place during the winter, and the young are born after a gestation of about 13 days. The litter is usually initially about 21 (although there is a report of one of 56), but the mother only has 13 teats, not all of which may be functional. Young which do not attach themselves to a teat die, and usually only about 7 survive to weaning. If only one or two young are born, there is not enough stimulation for lactation to begin. The young leave the pouch in the spring after 50-65 days, and are then carried on the mother's back and tail until they are about 95-105 days old. Where possible the mother will then breed again, and may attempt a third litter in warm areas, although these often die in the pouch. The young leave the mother's area, although the females may stay nearby. Sexual maturity is reached in the first year.
Not currently threatened.