The opossum, known simply as ‘‘possum’’ to most West Virginians, is the only marsupial found in North America. An opossum’s beady eyes, pointy snout, naked ears, and prehensile tail make it one of West Virginia’s most recognizable mammals.
Marsupials are primitive mammals best known for carrying their young in pouches. After a late-winter pregnancy of just 13 days, newborn opossums the size of honeybees climb up their mother’s abdomen and into her pouch. There they latch onto one of 13 nipples and continue to develop outside the womb for about eight weeks until weaned. Adults weigh four to 15 pounds, about the size of a large house cat.
As in states farther south, possums play a part in West Virginia’s folklore and occasionally in its cuisine. They are known for their ability to feign death or ‘‘play possum’’ as a means of escaping dangerous situations. This amazing response to danger is involuntary and usually effective. Opossums are the ultimate generalists and opportunists. They live just about everywhere, including fields, farmland, towns, parks, marshes, and woods. And they eat almost anything—fruits, nuts, roots, insects, eggs, small rodents, and even carrion. Opossums do not hibernate, though they may stay in their dens for several days during winter storms. When they venture outside during bitter cold weather, their paper-thin ears and near-naked tails are subject to frostbite.
This Article was written by Scott Shalaway
Last Revised on October 22, 2010