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Opossum Facts, Behavior and Habitat

Terry Krautwurst shares opossum facts, behavior and habitat. Discover everything you wanted to know about this nocturnal visitor.

| August/September 2003

Learn everything you need to know about opossum facts, behavior and habitat.

It is an odd sight, this shuffling, waddling creature with the faintly foul odor, a thin trickle of drool at one corner of its mouth, its hair sticking out every which way, its eyes blinking, its tail comically naked.

No, I'm not talking about you when you get up in the morning. I'm talking opossum here — Virginia opossum, to be precise, and Didelphis virginiana, to be specific.

If you live in the eastern half of the United States, along the West Coast, or in southwestern Canada, you and D. virginiana probably have crossed paths. That you were at the wheel of a car at that precise instant also is a distinct possibility. The opossum is easily one of the most common of all North American creatures, both living and squashed-on-the-road. There's more to the opossum, though, than meets the passing eye. Look more closely, and you'll find an animal with a remarkable story.



Learn About Opossum Facts, Behavior and Habitat

With its odd looks, clueless demeanor and taste for trash-can fare, the opossum is widely considered to be only a half-rung above a rat on the wildlife ladder. This is not only the opossum's current reputation, but its historic one, too. Literally translated, the Santee Sioux word for opossum means "big rat." In the early 1700s, when English surveyor and explorer John Lawson traveled through what is now the Carolinas, he described the animal similarly: "They are a very stupid Creature, utterly neglecting their Safety. They are most like, Rats of any thing."

Other early observers saw more than a mere rat in the opossum's odd anatomy. Struggling to explain the strange New World animal to folks back home in opossum-less Europe, Captain John Smith, founder of the Jamestown colony, wrote: "The opossum hath an head like a Swine and a tail like a rat, and is the bigness of a Cat. Under her belly she hath a bagge, wherein she lodgeth, carrieth and sucketh her young."






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