Opossums – Types, characteristics, diet and habitat

Opossums – Types, characteristics, diet and habitat

Some animals have common names in different countries, while in the case of others they are named differently depending on the region. This is the case of possums, animals that are known by other names depending on the country where they are found. Some examples are: Caracas, places, tacuazines, opossums, rabipelados and mainly in various regions they are also called foxes or foxes, among others. However, this last designation is generally used for another animal with totally different characteristics.


What is a possum?

Opossums are a group of marsupial animals, Native America. They look like a mouse, but they are unrelated, so it is taxonomically distant. They are animals that manage to develop in various types of ecosystems, with a high capacity for adaptation.

taxonomic classification

Although with a wide variety of genera and species, all these animals are restricted to a single current family. The taxonomic classification of possums corresponds to the following:

  • kingdom: animal
  • Edge: chordates
  • Class: mammals
  • Order: didelphimorphia
  • Family : Didelphidae

Possum Characteristics

These animals have a weight range that varies from about 10 g to 2 kg . Regarding their length, including the tail, they can measure between 17 and 100 cm approx. Some species are sexually dimorphic in size, with females being smaller than males.

Opossums usually have a layer of fine hairs on their body, which can range in color from dark to light grey, brown, or yellow. The row of several species is long, bald or with very few and prehensile types. While in others, it is shorter, with the presence of hairs and is not prehensile.

The females of the larger species have a pouch or pouch, while the smaller ones have pleats near the breasts. A particular feature is that they have 4 to 27 mammary glands, so they are able to suckle a significant number of offspring. Some males also have a pouch, like aquatic species, with which they cover their genitals and therefore remain protected while swimming.

The legs of didelphimorphs are short and have five toes each. However, in semi-aquatic species, the hind legs have been modified to a standardized shape, which undoubtedly facilitates swimming.

As for the senses, hearing is not very developed, vision, although at a certain level, does not reach that of other mammals, and they have a good sense of smell.

Types of Opossums

These animals are generally grouped into 19 genera and about 95 species , although there are some classifications not yet fully defined. Some types of possums are:

  • Didelphins : groups around 16 species, which are, for example, a semi-aquatic called yapok or water fox ( Minimum Quironectas ) Also in this group we find the common opossum ( Didelphis marsupialis ), which has one of the largest distribution ranges.
  • Monodelphinids: It consists of an important variety of genera, in which there are several species with different characteristics in terms of sizes, colours, types of fur and tail. One of the species in the group is the opossum-rat or dwarf weasel ( Cryptonanus chacoensis ).
  • Caluromines: This group is composed of species known as woolly possums and particularly its members are in some state of risk according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Some species are the brown woolly possum ( Galanteador caluromiado ) and the western woolly possum ( Mallodelphys lanatus ).

Possum customs

These animals, in general, have solitary habits and are nocturnal or twilight. Sometimes they can meet while eating but not make contact. Males can be quite aggressive to each other, but they are generally not aggressive to females. Opossums can be terrestrial or semi-aquatic, with great ease of climbing, so it is also common for them to have arboreal habits.

They usually build nests for the time of calving or use ready-made ones, into which they place leaves, roots or dry grass. It is common that due to scarcity of resources in some habitats, certain species go into torpor while food is available.

Despite not having a good sense of hearing, skunks can communicate through certain sounds, especially between mothers and babies, and also for reproductive purposes. Smell is also a commonly used sense of communication.

Where does the possum live?

Opossums have a wide distribution from North America to southern Patagonia, with a few exceptions within the continent.

Furthermore, they are capable of developing in a large number of habitats, including tropical or temperate forests, grasslands, freshwater bodies, dry areas, savannas, agricultural and urban spaces.

What do possums eat?

They are classified as omnivores and are considered opportunistic due to the wide variety of habitats in which they are located. In this sense, they feed on a wide variety of invertebrates, including insects, spiders, scorpions and crustaceans; also small rodents and snakes. Opossums are immune to certain types of snake and spider venom, making them easier to prey on.

On the other hand, they also consume certain types of fruit, so they disperse some seeds in the ecosystems they inhabit. Furthermore, due to its development in urban areas, the consumption of human waste is common.

Possum breeding

Males know how to mate with several females, which in many cases leads to clashes between them. There was no evidence of courtship in these animals, but there is some noise emission at the time of reproduction.

The sexual maturation of individuals occurs between 6 and 10 months of age approximately, generating between 1 and 4 litres per year, which is undoubtedly a high reproductive rate. However, reproduction is conditioned by the availability of resources and environmental conditions.

Opossums are born prematurely, so gestation doesn’t last for up to two weeks. At the time of delivery, young people are in an immature state, with organs not yet fully formed. As soon as the birth takes place, the newborns, using their forelimbs, which have sharp nails, climb up to the woman’s breasts. They are kept there for at least several weeks to complete their development. It is common for young women to have more offspring than they can breastfeed, so there is usually a certain infant mortality rate.

Once the new opossums develop properly, they continue to suckle. But now they have a certain independence and as the mother moves, they continue to climb into her body.

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