The Virginia opossum is the only marsupial found in North America and it travels mostly at night to look for food and shelter for themselves and their young. The Virginia opossum is the first animal to be named an opossum and it comes from the Algonquian word “wapathenwa”, which means white animal. According to the National Opossum Society, the Virginia opossum is the size of a household cat and it has gray hair, black eyes and a pink and pointed nose. Virginia opossums are omnivorous, and they eat various things such as insects, rodents, berries, grass and vegetables. A Virginia opossum is gentle and non-confrontational, and it generally survives in the wild two to four years after birth.
Biology of Virginia Opossum
A Virginia opossum is known as a scavenger that will go anywhere to obtain food and shelter and yet they are actually clean animals as opposed to many other types of scavengers. They wash themselves often and they have a quiet disposition. When the Virginia opossums feel threatened, they hiss and growl using their 50 teeth, which are more teeth than the average North American mammal. The Virginia opossum is very skilled in tree climbing and it can adapt to any type of environment.
The Virginia opossum prefer to find habitat that’s near forests, wastelands, alleys, under buildings and homes, in backyards and especially near wet areas such as marshes, swamps and lakes. Virginia opossums also spend most of their day in underground dens and near logs in the forest, but they’re generally not territorial regarding where they dwell because it’s not their nature to aggressively fight others for their spots. While you’ll see the Virginia opossums visit urban areas occasionally and they can be seen near dumpsters and isolated areas of a big city, most Virginia opossums move around in rural areas. The main regions where you’ll see the them are the eastern United States, Mexico and Central America. Because Virginia opossums are often seen in rural areas, they become an easy target for other predators nearby such as foxes, coyotes and sometimes bear. Humans who live in rural areas will sometimes kill the opossums for sport and for sustenance. The Virginia opossum doesn’t hibernate in the winter; however, they often seek shelter during cold months.
The Virginia opossum is a marsupial animal, which means that the female mammal carries her young in her pouch, and this gives the young a safe environment from the environment’s harsh elements. When a baby Virginia opossum is born, it’s still an embryo and the baby climbs up the mother’s abdomen in order to get nutrition from the mother’s teats. The breeding season for the Virginia opossum starts in December and ends in October. Most Virginia opossums are born between February and June, and during mating season the male opossum makes a clicking sound to attract the female opossum. The female Virginia opossum has an ovulation cycle of 28 days and after the mating and fertilization period, an average of nine infants are born although sometimes twenty baby opossums could be born in one litter. As the infants get older, they outgrow the pouch and climb onto their mother’s back as she travels and looks for food. During this time the mother is teaching the young how to survive and defend themselves against predators. Generally a Virginia opossum lives two to four years after birth.
One disease that the Virginia opossum rarely gets is rabies and this is because the opossum has a high resistance to it. However, opossums carry other illnesses such as tuberculosis, herpes virus, salmonella and Chagas disease, which is more common in South America than North America. Some symptoms of Chagas disease include fever, constipation, swelling in the eye and abdominal pain. Humans can protect themselves from disease by not eating or drinking after handling the opossums, wearing protective clothing when handling the opossums and having a knowledge of which diseases the opossums carry.
To humans, the most annoyance caused by Virginia opossums is when they decide to take up residence in their homes. Opossums especially like decks, underneath homes and sheds and other protective places where they can raise their young safely and be close to food sources. They can chew on wires, wood and other household materials as well as foraging for food and water resources on your property. The diseases they carry, including parasites and bacterium can be transferred to humans.
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