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Archive - February 2018

Virginia opossum Didelphus virginiana

What is a Virginia opossum?
A Virginia opossum is a mammal. Like all mammals, it has four limbs (legs). It has hair (fur). Its body temperature is kept at the same level regardless of the outside temperature. Its young are born after developing inside the mother's body in a special organ called the uterus. After birth, the young are fed with milk produced in the female’s mammary glands. It has a complex brain.

This species is solitary. Opossums do not travel or hunt in packs. It is usually active at night. It spends most of its time on the ground, although it can climb well and also swims. The Virginia opossum lives about two years in the wild.

What Does It Look Like? 
The fur color varies. Some individuals are close to black, while others may be more gray, white or brown. The face has white fur and a long, pointed pink nose. Its ears are black and without hairs. The tail is round. This prehensile tail is flexible and can be used to wrap around or grasp objects. The opossum also has an opposable toe on each hind foot. It is the innermost toe, and it is clawless. This special digit has a range of movement much like your thumb, and allows for this foot to assist in many tasks, like climbing.

How Big Is It?
The head-body length is 15 inches to 24 inches. The tail is nine inches to 20 inches long. The male Virginia opossum is larger than the female.

Where Does It Live?
This mammal is common statewide in Illinois. It lives in woodlands, along streams, in brushy areas, cities and farms. Its home is a den that may be placed in a former woodchuck or skunk burrow, hollow log or tree, brush pile or under or inside a building. It uses its tail to carry nest materials such as dry leaves and grasses. It changes den sites often.

How Does It Reproduce?
Breeding occurs from late January into February. They usually mate a second time in May. The average litter size is eight. The young are born very immature. The entire litter would fit easily in a teaspoon. After birth, the young crawl to their mother's pouch where they continue to develop. They leave the pouch two to three months later.

What Does It Eat?
The Virginia opossum is an omnivore. It will eat plant products (fruits, grains, seeds) and animals/animal products (insects, birds, eggs, reptiles, worms). It will also eat other materials that it finds as it searches for food, such as garbage, pet food and animals that have been killed on roads by vehicles.

Does Anything Eat It?
Many opossums are killed by vehicles on roads, and those are often eaten by turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) and other scavengers. Opossums are also caught and eaten by dogs, coyotes (Canis latrans), great horned owls (Bubo virginianus), foxes, raccoons (Procyon lotor), bobcats (Lynx rufus) and American minks (Mustela vison).

What Else Should I Know About It?

  • The Virginia opossum has more teeth (50) than any other land mammal.
  • When threatened, this mammal plays dead, hisses, bares its teeth or runs away.
  • The opossum doesn't hibernate but may sleep several days if winter weather is bad. It may become active during the day in winter instead of at night.
  • The ears and tail can be frostbitten.

Can I Hunt It?
​​Yes. This mammal is a furbearer. It is trapped and hunted for the fur it can provide. See the regulations in the most current issue of the Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations.

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