Opossums (or possums) are one of the oldest species of mammal in the world and they are the only marsupial in North America. Unlike other mammals, marsupials are born before they are well developed. They continue growing in a pouch on their mother’s abdomen. Other marsupials can be found in Australia and South America. The word “opossum” comes from the Algonquin Indian word “apasum” which means “white animal.” Opossums are primarily nocturnal but have been known to forage during the day.
|Opossums have long, pointed snouts with 50 teeth and small dark eyes. They have long, coarse fur that is light gray and naked, scaly tails similar to a rat’s.
|24 to 40 inches long including a 10 to 12 inch tail
|Anywhere from 4 to 12 pounds
|Opossums roam around, spending each night in a different den. They live in many different areas including farmlands, wood lots, brushy woods, open woods, suburban areas, and wet or dry lands.
|They will eat whatever they can find including insects, lizards, snakes, toads, bird eggs, and young mammals or birds. They also eat berries, mushrooms, and cultivated plants, along with garbage, carrion, and roadkill.
|Bobcats, coyotes, foxes, hawks, and owls
|Location in Pennsylvania
|Male opossums are typically larger than female opossums.
Opossums are quite slow—their fastest running speed is around 4 miles per hour.
Opossums have been known to fake their own death if they are attacked by another animal. It is unclear whether they fake death deliberately or involuntarily (like in the case of nervous paralysis).
Opossums will eat poultry that is unprotected. They will also eat dry cat and dog food if it is left unattended near a house.
Opossums can be trapped with foothold traps and cage-style traps. They can be shot with firearms. Protect poultry with proper fencing and housing. Do not leave cat and dog food outside unattended.
For more information about opossums, check out the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s wildlife notes.