Opossums are an incredibly adaptive species of scavenging marsupial that has adapted to thrive in the wild. The most well-known of the species is the Virginia opossum, or common opossum, which is the only mammal that carries its young, called joeys, in a pouch – like a kangaroo or a koala – found in the United States or Canada. They are also an old mammal, dating back more than 60 million years.
Opossums are easy to identify due to their long, pointed snout, grey fur, white face, dark round eyes, and their characteristic hairless tail which spans more than a third of an opossum’s total body length. But despite their appearance, they are not actually that big compared to other creatures, weighing around 15 pounds as fully matured adults and being anywhere from 21 inches to 36 inches long from snout to tail. This puts them roughly similar in size with a cat, but certainly lighter than other mammals like beavers (37 lbs.) or raccoons (28 to 29 lbs.)
Opossum joeys are significantly smaller, roughly the size of a honeybee. Female opossums give birth to litters as large as 20, but due to their small size, they have a very high mortality rate. Once born, a baby opossum will immediately head for the mother’s pouch, where they develop and grow until they can safely leave.
Even when they outgrow the pouch, young opossums will still be transported by their mothers by clinging onto their backs. In total, they will stay with their mother for around 100 days, reaching sexual maturity a little earlier between six to eight months after birth.
More About Opossums
Overall, opossums have a notoriously short lifespan. They are not adept at fighting off predators, instead relying on their ability to “play possum”. Using this defense mechanism, the opossum can enter a rigid state that makes them appear and even smell dead to whatever is threatening them, which can last up to four hours. The effect is brought about when the creature becomes stressed, causing it to become stiff and unresponsive to any external stimulus – even if they are picked up.
Otherwise, opossums are excellent climbers, able to use their prehensile tail to grasp onto things and act as an extra limb to avoid any predators on the ground. In the event they are confronted, opossums will hiss and growl to try and ward off the predator. As such, opossums are unlikely to live more than 2 years in the wild as they are often targeted by larger birds of prey like owls or ground-based mammals including foxes.