Opossum

Common Name: Common Opossum or Virginia Opossum.

Scientific Name: Didelphis Marsupialis or Didelphis Virginiana.

What to look for?  The Opossum is an odd-looking creature. It is about the size of a large house cat. It has a triangular head, It has a long, cone-shaped pointed nose with a pink tip. The Opossum has white, gray and black fur everywhere except on its ears, feet and tail. Its tail is long and prehensile (capable of grasping). Opossums are marsupials - mammals with a pouch in which they carry their young. Other well-known marsupials are kangaroos, koalas, and wombats. Opossums are the only marsupials in North America.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? Sightings will be random and mostly after dark around the reeds of the ponds.

How big are they? The Opossum averages 24 inches in length and weigh 10 to 12 pounds.

How else do they behave? Opossums are nocturnal, spending the day in dens or other protected spots. However, they can be seen at any time of day, especially in winter when food is scarce. Opossums are excellent tree climbers and spend much of their time aloft. They are aided in this by sharp claws, which dig into bark, and by a long prehensile (gripping) tail that can be used as an extra limb. Opossums are solitary animals and are rarely seen together. Although they can climb and are good swimmers, opossums prefer to amble about on the ground. Opossums have many predators including great horned owls, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, bobcats, raptors, and snakes. When threatened, they will exhibit behaviors like running, growling or "play 'possum" where they roll over, become stiff and “play” dead.

What’s for dinner? Opossums are scavengers and omnivorous. They eat insects, fruits and berries, earthworms, bird eggs, amphibians, and green vegetation. However, the main component of their diet is carrion.

Where do they take up residence? The Opossum can be found in most of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains and on the West Coast. Opossums are common throughout Illinois, but more abundant in the southern part of the state.  It is also found in Mexico and Central America. The Opossum lives in a variety of habitats including deciduous forests, open woods and farmland near wet areas like marshes, swamps and streams.

When and where do they breed and nest? Opossums will den nearly anywhere that is dry, sheltered, and safe; typically, nesting in tree holes or in dens made by other animals. To avoid predators, opossums move to a different den every few days. Opossums breed in January or February with some breeding again in May. Females have one to two litters per year. The average litter size is seven to eight young. Like most marsupials, opossums are very small when they are born - about the size of a bumblebee. As they get larger, they will go in and out of the pouch and sometimes ride on the mother's back as she hunts for food.

Where do they migrate? The opossum doesn't migrate nor hibernate in the winter. But it often holes up during very cold weather because it runs the risk of getting frostbite on its hairless ears, tail, and toes.

Do they make any interesting sounds? The Opossum will growl when threatened.

Interesting Facts About Opossums:

  • The only marsupial (pouched mammal) found in the United States and Canada.

  • Opossums have 50 teeth; the most teeth of any North American mammal.

  • The average opossum lifespan is two years.

  • The opossum has been around for at least 70 million years and is one of Earth's oldest surviving mammals.

  • The name “opossum” was first used in western culture by Captain John Smith in 1608. It comes from the  Algonquin name “apasum”, which means “white animal”.

  • Opossum are excellent climbers and good swimmers.

For more information on Opossum and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit National Geographic, Nature Works, University of Illinois Extension and Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, insects and plants. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.

 

Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!