San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Field Guide
Virginia Opossum, Didelphis virginiana Didelphis virginiana
Virginia Opossum

Family: Didelphidae (Opossums)

Description

The Virginia Opossum is about 2 ½ feet in length, which includes its foot-long hairless tail. The Virginia Opossum uses its tail to grasp onto things (prehensile). It weighs 4-5 pounds. The feet are clawless with an opposable thumb in each hind foot. It is about the size of a house cat. The opossum has a pointed snout and its mouth is armed with fifty sharp teeth. The fur is white at the base with black tips. This fur is interspersed with longer, white "guard hairs". Females have a fur-lined pouch on the underside of their abdomen.

Range and Habitat

The Virginia opossum is not native to San Diego. It is native to the eastern half of the United States but was introduced to California in 1895. It can be found also in southeastern Canada and most of Mexico.

Natural History

The Virginia opossum is the only marsupial found in the United States. It is a nocturnal omnivore that feeds on insects, lizards, mice, snails, earthworms, fruit, nuts, seeds, and grasses, but perhaps its most important food is carrion. The opossum often encounters humans while dining on road kill. It is well adapted to living in urban areas, accounting for its success around San Diego. This species does not hibernate. Natural predators include coyotes, foxes, and dogs. Opossums live about seven years.

Like other marsupials, the Virginia opossum has a short gestation period, 12-13 days. After birth the underdeveloped young crawl into the mother's pouch and attach themselves to a teat. The young often outnumber the teats, and those without one will die. There are two to three litters per year.


Text by Connie Gatlin
Photo credit: Alden M. Johnson
© California Academy of Sciences

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