Characteristics: The Virginia opossum is North America's only marsupial. A marsupial is an animal with a pouch, like a kangaroo or a koala. The opossum has been around for at least 70 million years and is one of Earth's oldest surviving mammals! The opossum is about the size of a small cat, with short legs, an opposable, clawless big toe, and a long flattened, pointed nose. It has small, thin, hairless ears and a long, nearly naked, scaly prehensile tail. Its fur is long and gray or brown, with numerous white guard hairs throughout. Its length is 15"to 20" and it weighs 9 to 13 pounds, with females somewhat smaller than the males. With 50 teeth, the opossum has more than any North American land mammal. Possessing clawless, opposable thumbs on its hind feet, the opossum is quite agile in trees. The hairless, prehensile tail is used for balancing, grasping branches, and carrying nesting material. A common misconception is that the opossum hangs upside down on branches. It weighs too much to do this.
The opossum is a shy, solitary creature which hisses when confronted but may fall into a catatonic state when too stressed, thUs "playing possum" is an involuntary reaction.
Habitat: The Virginia Opossum prefers a forested habitat, preferably close to water.
Did You Know?
As early as the 1820s, free African Americans settled in a community called Vinegar Hill, an area now known as Brightwood. During the Civil War, Fort Stevens was built within Vinegar Hill boundaries and repulsed the only Confederate attack on the District of Columbia.