Virginia Opossum

A marsupial is a mammal that nurses its newborn in a pouch attached to its body. Which of the following is the only marsupial found in North America?

Considering kangaroo, koala, opossum, and wombat, the answer is: opossum.

Photo credit: Cody Pope. 

The opossum — more specifically the Virginia opossum — is found from southern Canada to northern Costa Rica. Young opossums climb into their mother's pouches soon after birth and stay there for nearly two months, after which they spend another four to six weeks on their mother's back.

The name "opossum" comes from an Algonquin Native American name meaning "whiteface." Opossums appear frequently in Indigenous American folklore and stories, as they were those to first discover the species of marsupial. As a result, plenty of lore and misconceptions surround opossums (no, they don't actually carry any more disease than you or I!).

Opossums are nature's pest control. They are omnivores who are happy to eat anything from berries to mice to roadkill, which is made possible by their natural immunity to disease. While all mammals are capable of contracting rabies, the opossum's lower body temperature makes this species eight times less likely to contract rabies. Due to a peptide found in their blood, opossums also have partial or totally immune to snake or human poisons.    

Opossums are also some of the oldest mammals on record. Although it's believed that the opossum vanished from North America around 20 million years ago, they reentered the continent in the Great American Interchange— the natural bridge that was formed when North and South America joined.

There are over 65 species of opossum in the world. As a member of the largest order of marsupials in the Western hemisphere, the Virginia Opossum is tied with Australia's cuscus as the biggest animal in this order.

Learn more about opossums below.


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