Saturday, May 14, 2011

Virginia Opossum

Yesterday we learned about one of the Western Hemisphere's most unique marsupials, and now we'll move on to one of its most common. The Virginia or North American Opossum is the only marsupial on the continent to live north of Mexico. They can be found throughout the eastern United States, parts of the West, and down into Mexico and Central America, living in habitats that range from forests, the farmland, to urban areas.

Didelphis virginiana
So what came first, the Possum, or the Opossum? Well, if it's the word we're talking about, Opossum came first. It is derived from an Algonquin word that means "White Animal." The term was eventually adapted to refer to Australia's similar looking marsupials. Opossums also came first in the line of marsupial evolution. They are one of the oldest marsupial families.

Opossums are nocturnal scavengers that live off of an omnivorous diet. They consume plant matter, insects, and even carrion. Virginia Opossums can be quite aggressive when threatened, though if their foe is substantially larger they will "play possum." This involves them playing dead so that the attacker will lose interest.

Females have one or two litters a year, giving birth to up to nine pups. She will only be pregnant for thirteen days, but the young will be attached to her nipples for almost two months. Virginia Opossums have a very short lifespan in the wold; most don't live much past 18 months.

IUCN Status :  Least Concern
Location : United States and Mexico
Size : Body length up to 35in (89cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Infraclass : Marsupialia
Order : Didelphimorphia -- Family : Didelphidae -- Genus : Didelphis -- Species : D. virginiana

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