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Image of opossum
11/28/2022 5 minute read

Characteristics of opossum

When we say "animals with pouches," you might instantly think about Kangaroos. But do you know that there are many other animals that have pouches as well? One of them is the opossum! Opossums, the only family in the order of Didelphimorphia, are cat-sized marsupials that look like rats found…

When we say “animals with pouches,” you might instantly think about Kangaroos. But do you know that there are many other animals that have pouches as well? One of them is the opossum!

Opossums, the only family in the order of Didelphimorphia, are cat-sized marsupials that look like rats found in the Americas. The most notable species are the Virginia opossums. They are the only marsupial and opossum found in North America, while there are over 100 species found in South America. 

No matter where they are native, they have similar characteristics and physical features that help them thrive in the environment. We’ll be learning more about them today!

Opossum on a tree

Physical Description of Opossums

Opossums are nocturnal and solitary animals with hairless, rat-like tails for grasping and climbing. Their body is covered in short, coarse fur, usually grayish-white or brown, although some species have black fur. Other than this, they have more exciting characteristics which play an essential role in their survival.

Opossum resting on a tree

Triangular Head

The opossum has a triangular-shaped head with small, black eyes. Its long snout is filled with sharp teeth that it uses to eat its prey. When threatened, It may bare its 50 sharp teeth and hiss. They also have rounded, naked ears that are sensitive to sound.

Opossum with pointed nose

Long Pointed Nose

The opossum has a long, cone-shaped pointed nose to sniff out food. Their sense of smell is very strong, which makes them experts at finding food and sensing predators, and helps them communicate with others of their kind.

Pouch

Of course, we can’t forget about their most unique characteristic – the pouch! Marsupials are born very undeveloped, and they spend most of their time developing in their mother’s pouch. The opossum has a well-developed pouch that opens towards the back so that her young can climb into it easily.

furry opossum on a fence

Color of the Fur

These marsupials can have a variety of colors depending on the species. Some are black and brown, but the most common is grayish-white or brown. Albino opossums may be rare, but it’s not unheard of. 

Species like the Virginia opossum have darker fur on their back and a lighter color on their belly. Some species with rare fur colors can only be found in certain regions. For example, the black-shouldered opossum is found only in southeastern Peru and adjacent Brazil.

Opossum climbing on a tree

Feet

The opossums have five toes on their front feet and four hand-like paws on their hind feet. They use their sharp front claws to tear apart their prey, and the extra toe on their front feet helps them grip onto branches when climbing.

Opossum also has Hallux in their hind feet. A hallux is the “first toe,” or “big toe,” without claws that works like a thumb. This is opposable to the opossums, meaning it can move independently from the other toes. This helps them climb trees and gives them a better grip on their prey.

Opossum with long tail

Prehensile Tail

The opossum’s tail is very long, hairless, and scaly. It’s also prehensile, meaning it can grip onto branches like a monkey. Their long tails help them balance when climbing trees or running around. It also acts as a source of warmth. When it’s cold outside, the opossum will curl up into a ball and wrap its tail around itself to generate additional heat.

More About Opossums

  • Opossums are marsupials and there is no better definition that fits marsupials than describing them as “pouched animals.” The pouch on their stomach is where a female opossum carries the young. They also don’t have a true placenta, so the baby is born undeveloped. The mother will then take the newborn and place it into her pouch. When the baby opossums are born, they’re about the size of a jellybean and are pink and hairless.
  • When hearing about opossums, you might interchange Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana) with the common opossum (Didelphis marsupialis). But they’re actually two different species.
  • If opossums can’t scare a predator away with their hissing and baring of teeth, the creature may play dead. This defense mechanism is called “play possum” or “playing possum.” Some predators don’t like dead animals, so “playing dead” helps them escape when they sense predators like bobcats, coyotes, foxes, and hawks.
  • A male opossum is larger than a female opossum. They weigh up to 15 pounds and measure around 28 inches long from head to tail.
  • Male and female opossums breed twice a year. Their breeding season rotates from January to October, and female opossums can bear up to 20 young opossums.
  • Opossums are not resistant to very cold weather. They hide inside burrows and dens of other animals to seek heat.

Need Help With An Opossum Infestation?

If you suspect an opossum has made its way into your home or business, it’s important to take action immediately. These pests can carry a number of diseases that are harmful to humans, including rabies and typhus.

At AAAC Wildlife Removal, we have the experience and expertise to safely and effectively remove opossums from your property. We will also take steps to prevent them from returning in the future. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

Summary

So, there we go! We have dug deep enough to tackle the different characteristics of opossums. These cat-sized mammals are the only marsupials and the only opossum species in North America. 

We also learned about their fur which can be grayish-white or brown, although a few are black and white. But, no matter the difference in their coloration, they are the same mammals that keep their adorable babies in their pouch.