Virginia Opossum

Virginia Opossum

North American opossum

Didelphis virginiana
Life Span
2-4 years
Top speed
km/h mph 
kg lbs 
cm inch 

The Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) is the only marsupial found in North America north of Mexico. In the United States, it is typically referred to simply as a possum. Virginia opossums are familiar to many North Americans as they are often seen near towns or rummaging through garbage cans. Their slow and nocturnal nature, and their attraction to roadside carrion, puts them in danger of becoming roadkill.


Virginia opossums are about the same size as a large house cat, having a triangular head with a long pointed nose. Their fur is grayish and is everywhere except their ears, tail, and feet. Amongst their fur is long white-tipped guard hairs. The fur color may differ according to the population’s range. Their ears are large and delicate and the tail is prehensile, adapted for gripping and wrapping around tree limbs.




Virginia opossums live in most parts of the United States that are east of the Rocky Mountains, and along the west coast from British Columbia in Canada to Baja California. It is also found in Mexico and Central America. The animal lives in a wide range of habitats, including open woods, deciduous forests, and farmland. It prefers wet areas like swamps, marshes, and streams.

Virginia Opossum habitat map

Climate zones

Virginia Opossum habitat map
Virginia Opossum
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Habits and Lifestyle

Virginia opossums are nocturnal, solitary, and terrestrial. They are very good climbers and may establish their dens in trees. They begin their nightly activities at dusk and are active until dawn. They don’t hibernate but do reduce activity during the coldest seasons. Denning sites vary and may include buildings, abandoned burrows, and hollow trees. Virginia opossums change their denning sites often. They only remain in one den for a long period when weaning young.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Virginia opossums are omnivorous and will eat almost anything, including many different plants such as fruits, small animals, and insects. Sometimes they will eat garbage and carrion.

Mating Habits

12-13 days
25 joeys
4-5 months

Virginia opossums are polygynous, which means that one male mates with multiple females. Breeding is typically from December to August. The brief gestation period is 12 to 13 days and up to 25 young may be produced in each litter. Newborns are the size of a honeybee and once delivered they climb up into the mother's pouch. On entering the pouch, each baby must find a nipple and attach itself. The young remain latched for 2 months and in the pouch for 2.5 months. They then climb onto the mother's back, where she carries them for the remainder of their time together. It is during this time that baby opossums learn survival skills. They leave their mother after about 4 or 5 months. Reproductive maturity is reached within their first year of life, at about 6 months for females and 8 for males.


Population threats

There are no major threats to this species. In some areas, they can be trapped or hunted by humans but the main threat from humans is a collision with motor vehicles.

Population number

The IUCN Red List and other sources do not provide the Virginia opossum total population size, but this animal is common and widespread throughout its known range. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List, and its numbers today are increasing.

Ecological niche

These opossums are scavengers, making them very important in their habitat. By eating carrion, the risk of disease spreading in the area is lowered. They are important as seed dispersers, redistributing undamaged seeds from the genera Diospyros and Asimina, among others.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Virginia opossums deal with extreme heat by cooling themselves down by spreading their saliva.
  • They have a reputation for being very slow and clumsy. But they can show directional turns to avoid being captured when pursued. They can also swim or climb to escape from danger.
  • The name “opossum” was used for the first time in Western culture in 1608 by Captain John Smith. It is from the Algonquin word “apasum”, meaning “white animal.”
  • When startled or frightened, opossums can pretend to be dead (or “play possum”). An individual will curl up with its mouth open, tongue hanging out, and it looks dead. Their breathing even slows down for a few minutes or up to several hours. They will tolerate being poked or prodded and even bitten by an animal without reacting. This play can enable the opossum to escape predation, as most predators do not eat carrion.
  • Opossums have the greatest number of teeth of any land mammal: fifty of them, razor-sharp.

Coloring Pages


1. Virginia Opossum Wikipedia article -
2. Virginia Opossum on The IUCN Red List site -

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