Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Virginia Opossum

(Didelphis virginiana)

Habitat and Distribution: Found in wet woodlands, thickets, semi-urban areas and rural areas throughout Central and North America, from Costa Rica to southern Ontario, Canada. In the United States, they are found east of the Rocky Mountains and along the west coast.

Size: 12-30 inches long (including tail); 4-14 pounds. Males are larger than females.

Wild Diet: Fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains, insects, fish, eggs, carrion, small vertebrates, and human garbage

Predators: Coyotes, foxes, raccoons, bobcats, owls, hawks, large snakes and humans. Snakes and raptors prey on young opossums. Opossums are also frequently hit by cars.

Lifespan: About 2 years in the wild; average 2-5 years in zoos

Reproduction: Virginia opossums are ready to mate between 6-12 months of age. Females deliver up to three litters per year after 2-week gestations. The young nurse inside the pouch for at least two months, then emerge and ride on the mother’s back for about 3 more months until they are ready to forage on their own.

Behavior: Virginia opossums are solitary and almost exclusively nocturnal, favoring dark and secluded areas. They create dens in buildings, hollowed logs, tree cavities, and abandoned burrows. Long toes and strong tails make them excellent climbers and sensitive whiskers help them feel around in the dark. Opossums are also known for their ability to “play dead,” an occasional involuntary response to perceived threats. When playing dead, an opossum mimics the posture and scent of a dead animal.

Conservation

IUCN Status: Least Concern

Their opportunistic feeding and denning have allowed them to thrive in a diversity of wild and urban habitats. Virginia opossums currently face no major threats.

Did you know?

  • Opossums haven't changed much in 70 million years.
  • They are sometimes called "possums," but technically the term possum refers to an order of Australian marsupials.