Photo by Bob Gress
Total Length: 26-35 inches
Tail Length: 10-15 inches
Weight: 6-13 pounds
Virginia opossums are marsupials. They have a pouch to carry their
young. Female marsupials are called jills and their young, joeys. An opossum's head
contains a small, primitive brain and a narrow muzzle ending in a pink nose and jaws with
50 teeth (more than any other Kansas mammal). Their front feet have five clawed toes and
their hind feet have four clawed toes and an opposable "thumb." The naked,
prehensile or grasping tail assists them when climbing. Opossums may give birth in the
spring and again later in the summer. Females bear litters of housefly-sized young that
crawl to the fur-lined pouch and attach to one of 13 nipples where they feed on milk for
about 2 months. The young may then leave the pouch and ride on their mother's back.
Opossums lead a solitary, secretive life, wandering from dusk to dawn in search of food,
then spending the day sleeping in a brush pile or hollow log. When threatened, opossums
may hiss, growl, bite, climb a tree or feign death by "playing possum." Their
instinct of "freezing" when alarmed makes them common casualties of vehicles.
Their maximum life span in the wild is about 2 years.
Virginia opossums range from South America to Canada. They are found throughout
Kansas in shrublands, woodlands, croplands and urban backyards.
Virginia opossums are omnivores. Their food includes fruits, seeds, insects,
snails, crayfish, frogs, lizards, snakes, mammals and ground nesting birds and their eggs.
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Text: George Potts and Bob Gress
Design: Jim Mason