Virginia opossum on dried leaves.

Virginia opossum

The "o" is important

Type

giant panda

Mammals

Area

North America

North America

Endangered Status

Stable

facts

size
2.5 feet
in length, from nose to tail
An average soccer ball is 8.65 inches tall.
Virginia opossum next to a soccer ball.

About the size of a typical house cat, Virginia opossums are the largest species of opossum.

food
omnivore
omnivore

Opossums eat just about anything. They roam around at night in search of food: insects (even cockroaches!), snails, mice, rats, plants, small lizards and snakes. They also scavenge on carrion (animals that are already dead).

habitat
forests, more
forest habitat

Virginia opossums live in many habitats—maybe even your neighborhood! They are found from Central America into parts of the United States and Canada that don’t get much snow. Virginia opossums are the only marsupial in North America.

description

Virginia opossum compared to an Australian possum.

The "o" is important

Some people might think that the name “opossum” and the name “possum” are interchangeable—but they’re not. Opossums are a group of marsupials (pouched mammals) that live in the Americas. Possums—without the “o”—are a different group of marsupials, which all live in Australia and New Guinea.

Opossum climbing tree.

Night moves

The Virginia opossum usually sleeps in a cozy spot during the day. At night, it comes out of its hiding place and spends most of its time looking for food. The sensitive whiskers around its face and muzzle help it feel its way in the dark. It prowls along the ground or climbs trees. An excellent climber, an opossum uses its nearly-naked tail as a handy “fifth hand.” It is a decent swimmer, too.

Mother opossum with multiple babies riding on her back as she crosses a road.

Jack and jill—and joey, too

A male opossum is called a jack, and a female is called a jill. A jill gives birth to honeybee-size babies called joeys. A newborn joey’s goal is to crawl into its mother's pouch and latch onto one of her teats. It stays in her pouch and grows bigger for about 7 to 10 weeks. After the joeys leave the pouch, all of them (up to 10) hitch a ride on mom’s back.

Just pretending! Opossum playing 'possum.

Playing "possum"

If a threatened opossum can’t run away, it may growl, belch, hiss, pee, and poop. If that doesn’t scare a predator away, the opossum does its best to look and smell dead and unappetizing. It stiffens and falls onto its side, draws its lips back, and foams at the mouth. At the same time, it secretes a foul-smelling liquid from its rear end. This is an automatic response that people call “playing possum.”