The Virginia Opossum
There are many animals that are to be found across the American continent, but few have become so well known because of one famous trait. Playing possum is an expression that has originated with the Virginia Opossum, which is referring to the defense mechanism of the opossum which is to pretend to be dead if it is threatened. The opossum is a marsupial and is to be found on both coasts of the United States, and is also frequently found in the countries of Central America.
Appearance And Biology
The opossum is an animal that generally has a white face, and a light gray brown coat of thick fur. One distinctive part of the opossum is that its tail is entirely hairless, and will commonly grow to over a foot and a half in length. In terms of the opossum itself, it is usually comparative in size with the domestic cat, although the larger examples are usually found further north. These can grow to over three feet in length, although the tail will make up a large part of the overall length.
One very interesting part of the opossum is that it has an opposable thumb without a claw on the hind legs, which is helpful for climbing. It is also worth noting that the opossum has more teeth than any other mammal native to North America.
Behavior And Life Cycle
The most famous behavioral attribute of the opossum is its tendency to play dead when threatened. The animal will not only lie very still, but it will also emit a fluid from its anus which has a putrid smell that will also help to deter predators. The opossum is nocturnal and will tend to live a quite solitary life when compared with other animals.
The Virginia Opossum is not a long lived animal, and will rarely live for over two years, and even examples that live in captivity will rarely live beyond four years. This short life span is often attributed to its low level of defense against predators, although it is still a low life span when compared with marsupials of a similar size.
Habitat And Diet
The Virginia Opossum is very flexible in terms of the habitat it can occupy, and although they are generally to be found in woodland and forests, they have adapted quite well to living in urban or rural areas. Because the opossum is able to eat a wide range of foods, it is often talented at scavenging when living in proximity to humans. In the forests they will live in hollows in trees or logs, and will equally look for dark places when living in urban areas. They even can live inside an attic
In terms of diet, in their natural habitat the opossum will usually prey on smaller animals, but are also able to eat a wide range of fruit and plants. They are particularly noted for eating persimmons in the autumn. The opossum will often cause problems in urban areas as they will scavenge in garbage cans and among other human waste to find food.
The Virginia Opossum is an animal that is often considered a pest by many humans, but in reality it is a very versatile animal that is adapting to finding itself in an urban area. In their natural habitats opossums are very territorial, and are rarely seen because of their inclination to avoid humans. Although opossums are often characterized by their tendency to play dead when in mortal danger, it is best to try and avoid the marsupials as they have been known to react aggressively when they are scared or under threat.
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