Living near Liberty North

From an opossum's point of view

Big image

About me....

Didelphidae Marsupialia

  • I am North America's only marsupial - an animal with a pouch, like a kangaroo or a koala.
  • I am normally about the size of a house cat, but can vary considerably in size: larger in north, and smaller in the tropics. I can range 24–34 inches; tail length: 9–15 inches; and weigh in at 4–15 pounds (Opossum, 2016).
  • My fur is generally gray but can be white, brown, black, or any in between. This is due to my guard hairs, which can range in color and thickness. (All About Opossums, 2016).
  • I have a long, hairless, prehensile tails, which is adapted for grasping items such as leaves to build a den, or for stabilization to wrap around branches while I am in a tree. I also have hairless ears and a long, flat snout and pink nose. (All About Opossums, 2016).
  • I have 50 teeth, the most out of any North American mammal, and opposable, clawless thumbs on their rear limbs (All About Opossums, 2016).
  • Males and females look alike, although mature females possess a fur-lined belly pouch for carrying young, and adult males in particular often have damaged ears and tail tips due to freezing (All About Opossums, 2016).

I don't always play dead... (Interactions)

Opossums have survived for many years due to their ability to eat nearly anything - and I mean anything...

  • My diet includes many macromolecules: lipids, carbs, and protein.
  • Foods include fruits, nuts, grains, insects, slugs, snakes, frogs, birds, bird eggs, shellfish, mice, and carrion (dead animals).
  • In more urban areas, I also eat garbage, pet food, birdseed, poultry, and and and all handouts I can get.
  • I also help rid urban areas of rodents, cleaning up uneaten food that otherwise would attract mice and rats.
  • However, in rural areas, the impact of non-native opossums preying upon native invertebrates - such as small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, ground-nesting birds, nestlings, and eggs - is becoming a concern.
  • Small mammals (dead and alive) are the most important food for me in winter, spring, slugs in summer, and fruits in fall.
  • Because I eat a lot of road-killed animals, including other opossums, I am more likely to become road kill - uh oh!
  • I gain little body fat for winter and don’t store food, so I have to forage year-round - yes, Over the Hedge lied to you.

(Opossums - Living with Wildlife, 2016)

Life through my eyes...


I normally prefer wooded areas mostly near streams, especially near farms as opposed to densely wooded areas, but I am also common in urban and suburban areas (Wildlife Rescue, 2016).

I can really live anywhere - I'm not picky - hollow trees and logs, the abandoned dens of others mammals, piles of rubbish, rocks, hay, and wood, storm sewers, and spaces under or within barns, sheds, houses, and buildings provide cozy temporary homes (Opossums, 2016)

Water, land, seasons, oh my!

I sometimes climb trees to seek food or avoid predators, useing my tail to balance, and I sometimes hang upside down by wrapping the tail around a large branch - only so I can free up my feet to eat more food!

Although I like to stay on the land where it's dry, I sometimes go for a swim.

Things get crazy at night, especially between 11:00 pm - 2:00 am. But I am more active in spring and summer than in winter - I like to spend several days or more in my den if it gets too cold (below 20-15 degrees F).

I don't like the cold; my ears and tail are prone to frostbite! Not being able to stay warm and the lack of food causes many of us to die off during harsh winters - rest in peace Billy.

(All About Opossums, 2016)


Breeding season begins in early February, and pregnancy only lasts 12 or 13 days - thank goodness. Most of our babies are born by the end of February.

Female also have a reproductive system that is split completely in two, resulting in two separate birth canals and two uteri (Miller).

Offspring are blind, not fully developed. and are less than a half inch long; at birth, we make our way to the mother’s pouch, where we nurse until we are weaned, usually in May. Many of the young do not survive, and some do not even make it to the mother's pouch.

Once weaned, the females can mate, with the second litters usually weaned by the end of September. Young of both sexes breed the first year after birth.

How to pick up chicks 101

  • Since the opossum ladies are a little feisty, we have to be a little more 'persuasive'.
  • When we see someone good looking, we grab them by their ankles with our hind legs, and do that nasty.
  • Once you do your thing, move on to the next.

Life ain't always easy...


  • The biggest threat would be habitat destruction and degradation. When people build new building, including big scary schools, they take away large parts of my environment.
  • Many of my other treats are caused by humans also: development and increased snow sports, exotic species being brought in (plants and animals), litter/garbage (encourages cats and foxes to these areas), and traps/poison. People come in with their new things, and I have difficulty adjusting to these strange changes.
  • But some of my threats are natural: climate change (increased temperatures), and predation by feral animals (cats, foxes).
  • People try to get rid of my with regulated harvesting to maintain healthy populations. In Missouri, hunters and trappers also like to make killing us a sport during furbearer (hunting for fur) season.
  • There are many other predators that like to much on what I do: foxes, raccoons, and skunks. This threatens my food source, and could leave me with a very empty stomach!

(Opossums, 2016)


Immune system - We have vastly varying chemokines (attract white blood cells to sites of infection), defensins, cathelicidins (host defense peptides), and Natural Killer cell receptors (Belov). Our body is also held at a lower temperature, helping us avoid certain diseases

Communication - I can talk to my buddies by making clicking sounds, usually when two guys threatening each other or a mother calls to her young (Virginia Opossum, 2016).

Adaptations / How I Defend Myself

  • "Playing Dead" - we often stiff up, remain still, do not blink, and have out tongue hang out. This makes the attacker lose interest and walk away. Interesting enough, we can't control when we "play dead'!
  • We are skilled tree climbers, possessing sharp claws, hind feet equipped with opposable thumbs, and prehensile tails that can hold onto branches and aid the animal with balance. This helps us not only climb trees, but also avoid predators.
  • While we aren't immune to rabies, we do get it far less than other animals. According to the Opossum Society of the United States, our average temperatures, which range from 94 to 97 degrees Fahrenheit, may contribute to their resistance because our bodies are too cool for the disease to survive.
  • Due to their ability to eat a number of things, this allows them to be able to have a more wide range of options.
  • We have high infant mortality and short lifespans, averaging one to four years. To compensate, we reproduce A LOT. Females may give birth three times per year to litters of up to 20 young.
  • We can get a little aggressive when threatened and will hiss, screech, and show our teeth to predators. We can also squirt a foul-smelling liquid from our butts - like when dogs/cats excrete their anal glands - to add to the "dead" effect (Virginia Opossum).



When sleeping, opossums hang upside down by their tails in trees.

We really like the ground and spend most of our time on it. We really only climb up into trees to escape predators, or when we look for food.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but we DON'T sleep in the branches of trees like birds.

Instead, we prefer dens on the ground to curl up when we sleep. Because our tail can grap stuff, we use it to help with climbing and balance. It is also comes in handy when carrying bundles of denning material.

I've never seen someone hanging by their tail, but if I did, it wasn't for long!



"All About Opossums." Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.

Belov, Katherine, Claire E. Sanderson, Janine E. Deakin, Emily S.W. Wong, Daniel Assange, Kaighin A. McColl, Alex Gout, Bernard De Bono, Alexander D. Barrow, Terence P. Speed, John Trowsdale, and Anthony T. Papenfuss. "Characterization of the Opossum Immune Genome Provides Insights into the Evolution of the Mammalian Immune System." Genome Research. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 17 July 2007. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.

Dawson. "Role of Sweating from the Tail in the Thermal Balance of the Rat-kangaroo, Potorous Tridactylus." Research Gate. Pubmed, May 2014. Web. 29 Apr. 2016.

Miller, Lisa. "Opossum Birth & Rearing Habits." Animals., n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.

"Opossum." MDC Discover Nature. Conservation Commission of Missouri, n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.

"Opossums - Living with Wildlife | Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife." Opossums - Living with Wildlife | Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.

"Virginia Opossum." Virginia Opossum. FCPS, 2016. Web. 03 May 2016.