Opossum Facts
Opossum Facts

36 Outrageous Opossum Facts

Madeline Thatcher
By Madeline Thatcher, Associate Writer
Published September 30, 2019
  • Opossums are marsupials, meaning that females carry their young in a pouch on their stomach.[3]
  • Opossums are the only marsupials that are native to North America.[3]
  • Captain John Smith, an English explorer, is credited with naming the opossum during his visit to the New World in 1608.[3][5]
  • Opossums got their name from the word "aposoum," a term that means "white beast" in the language of the Algonquin, a Native American tribe in the northeast United States.[3]
  • Opossums don't choose to play dead; it's an automatic response to feeling threatened.[3]
  • When opossums play dead, they also secrete a bad smell and foam at the mouth to make themselves appear like a real dead animal to predators.[3]
  • An opossum's tail makes up 1/3 of its body length.[3]
  • Opossum Play Dead
    If looks could kill, opossums would be some of the fiercest predators. Good thing they're pretty harmless to humans!
  • While opossums may seem like vermin, they actually make great neighbors. They keep urban areas free from ticks and other pests, which keeps communities cleaner and healthier.[3]
  • Opossums have a diverse palate when it comes to food; they'll eat everything from insects to snakes to garbage.[3]
  • Opossums are sometimes called "Nature's Little Sanitation Engineers," since they often eat dead things and, by doing so, rid their habitats of disease.[3]
  • An opossum can eat up to 5,000 ticks a year.[3]
  • Opossums can play dead for up to four hours to avoid capture or death at the hands of a predator.[3]
  • Opossums communicate with each other through scent glands; males emit a special odor in order to begin mating with females, and glands in a female's pouch help baby joeys find their way inside after birth.[3]
  • Opossums have a great sense of hearing, a common trait among nocturnal animals that cannot rely on eyesight to find shelter and prey.[3]
  • The number of litters a female opossum will have depends on the climate she lives in; mothers in warmer climates can have up to three, while those who live in cooler locales will only have one.[3]
  • Female opossums are called jills. Male opossums are called jacks.[3]
  • Baby Opossum Facts
    Joeys grow to full maturity about eight months after they're born.
  • Baby opossums, called joeys, are only about the size of a honeybee when they are born.[3]
  • Over half of newborn opossums will not survive moving from the ground to their mother's pouch.[3]
  • Baby joeys who arrive at their mother's pouch will latch on to a nipple for up to 70 days as they continue to grow.[3]
  • Opossums have a lifespan of two to four years.[3]
  • An easy way to tell the difference between the opossum and the possum is the tail; an opossum's will be hairless, while a possum's will be covered with fur.[5]
  • Opossums are rarely violent; while they will hiss and snarl to ward off predators, this is just a defense mechanism.[6]
  • Opossums are not very susceptible to rabies, most likely due to their cooler body temperatures.[6]
  • Male opossums' penises are forked.[4]
  • Male opossums will often use clicking sounds to attract females during mating season.[4]
  • Opossums gestate for less than two weeks before being born.[3][4]
  • Mother opossums will still carry their babies in their pouches and on their backs for several weeks after weaning while they learn how to find food.[3][4]
  • Opossum Fossil Dinosaur
    Opossums and T. Rexes were prehistoric neighbors.
  • Marsupials first evolved during the age of the dinosaurs, and fossil evidence suggests that opossums have very similar features to those earliest pouch-havers.[1]
  • Opossums have evolved and adapted very quickly over the past century or so, coming to live in cold, northern climates like New England from warmer, sunnier places like Mexico.[1]
  • Unlike other nocturnal animals, opossums move around much more, sometimes up to a 15-mile radius over a two-week period.[1]
  • Opossums have the most teeth of any North American mammal—a set of 50![1]
  • Opossums have a natural tolerance for snake venom.[1]
  • The scientific name for the opossum is Didelphia virginiana. "Didelphia" is Greek, meaning "two wombs," and "Virginiana" is modern Latin meaning "of Virginia," the state where opossums were first discovered.[2]
  • We have our opossum, a living piece of the Cretaceous. If you’re lucky enough to see one, say hello.

    - Natalie Angier

  • One of the ship captains who sailed with Christopher Columbus to the New World took an opossum home to Spain, where he presented it to the King and Queen at court.[2]
  • Opossums weigh between 4 and 12 pounds.[2]
  • Opossums use their tails like a fifth hand. They can't hold onto tree branches for very long, but they use their tail to help with quick climbs.[2][3]

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