All About Opossums

There are few animals less understood than the opossum. With a variety of names from “possum” to “grinner”, these little marsupials are both loved and hated by people. The opossum’s claim to fame is being the only naturally occurring marsupial in North America. Some relatives of the possum are the kangaroo, wallaby, and the Tasmanian devil.

Whether you have an opossum problem or you are just curious about these unique little creatures, there is a lot to learn about them. Keep reading for an article all about North America’s marsupial.

Opossum Biology

While many of us believe that there is only one species of this interesting creature, it turns out there are 60 different species. The particular species that most of us are used to seeing is the common opossum, which is also known as the Virginia opossum. One of their unique biological traits is their claws that they use to climb trees. Their tails actually help them to stabilize themselves as they climb trees, and they will often use it as a third leg. 


Bergmann’s Rule states that, generally, the farther north one goes, the bigger the animals will get compared to their southern counterparts. This is the case with possums as well, as you will usually find larger ones the farther north you go. Most opossums will be the size of a big house cat or small dog, but you might find some smaller or bigger depending on your location. 


Possums can have litters of up to 20 babies, but generally over half of the litter will die. They have to go right into their mother’s pouch to stay safe and grow, as they start out as small as honeybees. As these young joeys grow, they will actually ride around on their mother’s back as she walks around.


Many people know exactly what an opossum looks like, even if they have never seen one in real life. They are well known for their distinctive naked, pink tail that they are depicted hanging from trees within many movies. (Possums are not known to actually be able to hang from trees by their tail, as their tail is not strong enough to support the weight of their body.)

You can also spot an opossum by recognizing its grey body in stark comparison to its pale white face. Don’t be surprised if you run into a possum with black, brown, or even white hair, as each one can have different biological characteristics. The little guys have hairless ears and a pink nose at the end of their face. The reason they are also nicknamed “grinners” is because they always look like they are smiling due to the fur coloration around the mouth. If you still can’t picture what a grinner looks like, look up a picture of them and you will never forget their appearance.


Playing Possum

Everyone knows the term “playing possum.” It refers to the response opossums have when they are threatened by potential predators or dangerous situations. They will lie on their side or back and become completely still. This proves to be an effective deterrent to most predators and has saved countless possums from ending up dead. 


Opossums are usually nocturnal and do most of their feeding once it is dark outside. These creatures love to spend time in trees and feel right at home. They will often go up into a tree when they are threatened by predators or humans. They also often look for food up in trees, preying on bird nests and other such food sources.


Aggression is not really in the opossum’s spirit, as they will generally try to escape or play dead rather than get into a fight. If they are put in a situation where they or their young are threatened, they will open their mouths and hiss and growl. The opening of their mouths is supposed to show off all of their sharp teeth. The opossum is probably one of the most solitary animals in the wild, and they don’t necessarily like to be around other grinners.


Possums are opportunists, as well as being omnivores. They will eat from a wide variety of food sources based on what is available. Among the many food sources are worms, grubs, rats, mice, snakes, amphibians, crayfish, fish, eggs, all kinds of plants, grains, fruits, snails, and carrion. In addition to enjoying all of these food sources, possums are widely known as scavengers and they will eat anything they can. They love carrion, as they don’t have to find the food on their own. If they live anywhere near human development, they will scavenge around the trash and find all kinds of leftovers.

If you have ever seen an opossum rooting around in your yard at night, you might wonder what it is doing there. Many times these creatures will be looking for grubs in your yard. If you have a yard that is good grub habitat, you will often see skunks and opossums in your yard. 


One of the most interesting things about the possum is its habitat range. They live all over North America to the east of the Rocky Mountains. They can be found in southern Ontario, all the way down to Costa Rica in Central America.

Grinners usually tend to live in areas where there are woods and water present. They often live in hollow tree dens, in old buildings, under fallen logs, inside of natural caves and brush piles, and a variety of other places. Possums love to live in urban territory as well, because of the vast variety of food sources and living arrangements they have access to. Just because this is where opossums are found living now, however, does not mean they will always live in areas like these. These little marsupials are one of Nature’s most adaptable creatures and will always be able to evolve with urban sprawl and development.