Virginia Opossum

Virginia Opossum

Didelphis virginiana

About This Animal

SIZE: 6-13 lbs, body length of 12-20 inches, tail length of 15 inches

RANGE: Costa Rica north through Mexico to the central and eastern half of the United States into southeastern Canada.

HABITAT: Very adaptable, making their homes in rural, urban and suburban areas. They are commonly found in woodlands, agricultural areas and neighborhoods if cover is available. After being introduced in 1890, populations have established in California and along the West Coast.

DIET: Will eat insects, snails, slugs, rodents, and other small vertebrates as well as human garbage

ON EXHIBIT:  Classroom and Encounter Animal

The Virginia opossum is the only marsupial (pouched mammal) found in the United States. The Opossum has been around for at least 70 million years - since the time of the dinosaurs - and is one of Earth's oldest surviving mammals. They are unusually resistant to the venom of venomous snakes and are extremely unlikely to acquire rabies. They have 50 very sharp teeth, more than any land mammal. 

The Virginia opossum has many behavioral adaptations it uses to survive. When threatened, it will exhibit behaviors like running, growling, belching, urinating and even defecating. Sometimes it will "play 'possum" and roll over, become stiff, drool, and its breathing will become slow and shallow. This coma-like state can last up to four hours. Predators will think the opossum is dead and go away.

The name 'opossum' was first used in western culture by Captain John Smith in 1608. It comes from the Algonquin name 'apasum', which means 'white animal.'