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Opossums

Virginia opossums (Didelphis marsupialis) have white fur tipped with gray or black; long snouts with pink noses; bare ears; nearly hairless tails; and 50 teeth, the most of any North American land mammal. (Some people have mistaken them for giant rats.) Like monkeys, they have prehensile tails, which they can use to hang from branches for short periods of time. They are not aggressive, but when frightened, they may show their teeth and hiss. Their common means of defense is faking death or “playing possum.”

Opossums are scavengers. They mainly eat carrion but also feed on insects, fruits and berries, earthworms, eggs, amphibians, and vegetation. They are nocturnal and prefer wooded areas near water but are common in cities and suburbs that provide adequate food and shelter. They normally den in abandoned burrows but also use sheds, brush piles and hollow trees.

The opossum is North America’s only marsupial, which means it develops in a unique manner. Opossums breed in late January or early February and some again in May. Undeveloped young the size of bumblebees — seven or eight per litter — are born about 13 days later and must crawl into a pouch on the outside of the female’s abdomen to continue to develop. They stay in the pouch for about two months, and by the time they are three months old, they are on their own.