Opossum in Snow

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Juvenile opossum at Peck Ranch CA

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photo of opossum
Didelphis virginiana
Didelphidae (opossums) in the order Marsupialia

Opossums are medium-sized mammals with long, rather coarse, grayish-white (sometimes darker) fur; a sharp, slender muzzle with a pink nose; prominent, thin, naked ears; a white or yellowish-white head; short legs; and a long, grasping tail covered with scales and scant hairs. Males and females look alike, although mature females possess a fur-lined belly pouch for carrying young, and adult males in particular often have damaged ears and tail tips due to freezing.

Total length: 24–34 inches; tail length: 9–15 inches; weight: 4–15 pounds.
Habitat and conservation: 
Opossums prefer wooded areas mostly near streams, especially near farms as opposed to densely wooded areas. They are also common in urban and suburban areas. Management includes regulated harvesting to maintain healthy populations. In Missouri, hunters and trappers may pursue opossums during furbearer season.
Opossums eat a variety of foods but prefer animal matter, including many varieties of insects, and carrion of rabbits, cats, squirrels, mice, and other animals. Reptiles, amphibians, crayfish, birds and bird eggs and earthworms are also eaten. Fruits are eaten particularly in fall and early winter and include pokeberry, grapes, persimmons, papaws, and more. Opossums are also known to scavenge food from unsecured garbage cans.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Abundant throughout the state; less abundant in the northwest and southeast regions.
Because of the opossum’s abundance, management requires only a regulation of harvest.
Life cycle: 
Breeding season begins in early February, and gestation only lasts 12 or 13 days. Most litters are born by the end of February. The blind, incompletely developed young are less than a half inch long; at birth they make their way to the mother’s pouch, where they nurse until they are weaned, usually in May. The females can mate again at this time, with the second litters usually weaned by the end of September. Young of both sexes breed the first year after birth.
Human connections: 
Opossum fur is used in making coats, and many people enjoy baking and eating opossum.
Ecosystem connections: 
Opossums feed on many insects considered injurious by farmers, and they also perform an important ecosystem function by feeding on carrion. Opossums fall prey to foxes, coyotes, bobcats, and owls.
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