Solitary, nomadic opossums

The opossum is the only marsupial found in North America. Marsupials give birth to young at a very early stage of development, and these young crawl up into a pouch in the mother where they will spend up to three months developing before emerging to fend for themselves.

The opossum, or possum, was named by the Algonquians and it means "white beast." There are opossums found throughout the U.S.; the Virginia opossum is native to Maryland.

Opossums are solitary, nomadic animals that spend a lot of time in trees. They are most active during the night. Their tails allow them to hang upside down from branches while they are small, but this tail will not support a large adult. The tails are utilized more for carrying things than hanging from branches.

The name opossum means "white beast."

Like most marsupials, opossums have a lot of teeth, more teeth in fact (50) than any other mammal. Opossums have a generalized diet that can include, carrion, snakes, insects and fruit, especially persimmons. Opossums do not have a very long lifespan, with most animals living only about two to three years.

Opossums have a unique defense mechanism when threatened or harmed: they mimic the appearance of a sick or dead animal. This is an involuntary response they cannot control. When in harms way, an opossum will stretch out on the ground, bare its teeth, saliva will form around its mouth, and it will emit a foul smelling odor. This behavior gave rise to the term "playing possum."

Opossums were once a favorite game species and were considered a delicacy, especially in Southern cooking. Once the musk glands are removed, the meat is used in baking and stews.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Notes for 11/7/2010