Opossums

Didelphis virginiana

At-a-Glance

• Mating: Polygamous

• Peak Breeding Activity: February-March, but can run from January-October

• Gestation: 12-13 days

• Young are Born: Peak is March-April, but can be as long as February-November

• Litter Size: 5-25; average is 9

• Number of Litters per Year: 1-3; 1 is typical in Ohio

• Migration Patterns: Year-round resident; individuals wander widely with a home range of 15-40 acres

• Typical Foods: Omnivorous. Will eat carrion, insects, fish, reptiles, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and nuts

Description

An adult opossum is about the size of a large house cat, with coarse, grizzled grayish fur. It has a long, scaly tail, ears without fur, and a long, pointed snout that ends in a pink nose.

Habitat and Habits

Opossums are quite adaptable and can also be found in suburbia and the city. Their ideal habitat, however, is an area interspersed with woods, wetlands, and farmland. The den is usually situated in a wooded area near water. The opossum is an opportunist that will take shelter anywhere it can stay dry and safe from predators. It often uses the deserted dens of other animals, brush piles, tree holes or openings under old buildings as shelter.

The opossum’s best known behavior is that of “playing possum.” When threatened, the opossum may hiss and bare its teeth. More likely, though, it will roll over and lay motionless, appearing to be dead. When the danger is past, the opossum “revives” and resumes its activities.

Reproduction and Care of the Young

A female opossum carries her young approximately two weeks before they are born. Opossums are undeveloped, and tiny (1/15 ounce) at birth. The offspring must crawl to a nipple in the mother’s pouch to survive. The nipple will swell in the offspring’s mouth, providing a secure attachment and constant food supply for two months. At about three months of age, young possums emerge from the pouch for short periods and will hitch a ride on the mother’s back to get from place to place. In several days to a week the young leave the “nest” for good.