Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana)

Opossums belong to an off group of mammals called marsupials, which give birth to tiny young, barely more than embryos, and suckle them in external pouches. When we think about marsupials, Australia, home of the kangaroo, comes to mind, but a third of the world's marsupials live in the Americas. Range includes most of eastern United States, except Maine, N. Michigan, and N. Minnesota. Extends southwest to Colorado and most of texas. Also SE. Arizona and the coastal areas of California, Oregon, Washington, and S. British Columbia.

Nocturnal and solitary, when threatened the Opossum sometimes rolls over, shuts its eyes, and allows its tongue to loll, feigning death, or "playing possum", for some time. More often, it tries to bluff its attackers by hissing, salivating, and opening its mouth wide to show all of its 50 teeth. It is believed that potential predators may leave such animals for dead and seek more active prey elsewhere. The Virginia Opossum is the only North American marsupial, or pouched mammal.

The Virginia Opossum bears litters of up to 14 kits, each about the size of a honeybee. Immediately after birth the tiny creatures crawl into their mother's pouch, where they nurse for several months. After emerging from the pouch, they ride about on their mother's back for another few weeks. As their 50 teeth (more than those of any North American land mammal) develop, the young switch from mother's milk to an extraordinarily diverse diet of insects, other small animals, birds' eggs, mushrooms, grain crops, fruit and carrion. Though their food habits bring them close to man, opossums often go unnoticed because they are active mainly at night.

Millions of years ago marsupials were distributed all over a great supercontinent that existed before the earth's tectonic plates shifted, giving birth to today's continents. In Australia and South America (itself an island continent for 25 million years) marsupials escaped domination by more advanced species. Five million years ago, however, sea levels fell, creating a bridge between North and South America. The opossum was the single marsupial to venture north of this bridge. Now a bona fide Yankee, it is working on Canadian citizenship. Conservation Status: Abundant in its range.

Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana)



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