Page 148 - A Field Guide to Fairfax County's Plants and Wildlife
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ginia Opossum

(Didelphis virginiana)


These marsupials (sometimes called
“possums”) are about the size of a
house cat, with an average length of 0.5
to 1 meters from nose to the tip of the
long, hairless tail. Their fur is gray tipped with black; the throat and underparts
are whitish-yellow. Opossums’ tails are prehensile, which means they are
able to grasp and hold or wrap around something. It’s like having an extra
hand! Virginia Opossums are active mainly at night. They live alone, coming
together only to breed (January to October). Only two weeks after mating, the
female gives birth to six to 13 tiny young, which crawl through her fur to her
pouch. They develop in the pouch until they are old enough to ride around
on their mother’s back (about two months). Young Opossums are able live
independently in about three and a half months.

Distribution and Habitat

If an Opossum is attacked, it may faint Virginia Opossums are common
and go into a trance-like state (called in all five physiographic provinces.
“playing ‘possum”). Most predators They live in or near wooded areas,
pursue their prey and will ignore a especially those close to water. They
seemingly already-dead (and possibly are adapted to edge habitats and
rotten) corpse. Opossums can remain are abundant in urban areas.

in this state for up to six hours! Once

they sense that they are safe, they Role in Food Web

wake up and go on their way. Virginia Opossums are omnivorous

scavengers. They eat insects, fruits

and berries, earthworms, bird eggs,

amphibians, crayfish, mussels, snails,

slugs and vegetation. Urban opossums also feed in

garbage cans, compost heaps, pet food bowls and

bird feeders. Carrion is an important part of their

diet. Opossums are often killed by vehicles while

searching for carcasses along roadsides. Predators

include birds of prey, foxes and Coyotes.

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