Virginia Opossum

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Is this exotic mammal right for you?

Other name(s): Possum; North American Opossum

Scientific name: Didelphis virginiana

The basics:
Because Virginia Opossums are slow-moving, seemingly unaware of many dangers, and content to live near people, babies and injured adults often find their way into the hands of well-meaning caretakers. Unfortunately, while youngsters are undeniably cute, they rarely adjust well to captivity once mature, and even with the best of care are notoriously short-lived.

The Virginia Opossum is one of North America’s most widely-distributed mammals, being found from southern Ontario, Canada through virtually all of the USA east of the Rocky Mountains to Costa Rica. Isolated populations are also found along the USA’s western coast.

This highly-adaptable marsupial is equally home in forests, brushy meadows, swamps, farms, suburban yards, and such dense urban centers as NYC.

Appearance / health:
Virginia Opossums are comparable to a large domestic cat in size, with an average weight of 7-14 pounds. The white under-coat is overlain with course brown, gray, and black fur. The head is long and pointed at the snout, and the bare tail is prehensile.

Virginia Opossums are naturally short-lived, and rarely live more than 2-4 years in captivity, even with the best of care; a single zoo animal is known to have reached age 6.5 years. Skunks are common hosts of roundworms and tapeworms, and must be regularly checked buy a veterinarian; flea/tick treatment and prevention is essential.

Behavior / temperament:
While very young Opossums are accepting of human company, once they mature (at age 6 months), most become aggressive and intolerant of confinement. Armed with 50 very sharp teeth, captives forgo the death-feigning strategy used by stressed wild individuals and instead bite when restraint is attempted.  They seem unable to adjust to careful handling, and cannot be trusted. Folks desiring contact with Opossums may wish to seek training as a wildlife rehabilitator.

A custom-made cage of at least 15x15x6 feet (L x W x H), but preferably larger, is required to house an adult Virginia Opossum. Even so, individuals that are caged continuously become high-strung and stressed, as they cover a great deal of ground in their normal nightly wanderings. A devoted room is preferable as a Virginia Opossum enclosure. A variety of dog toys and a secure nest box should be provided.

Dry commercial skunk or dog chow supplemented with a variety of vegetables and fruit, rice, cottage cheese, crickets, mealworms, hard-boiled eggs, and cooked chicken works well as a basic diet. Cat vitamins should be provided if recommended by a veterinarian.

Virginia Opossum breeding is difficult to arrange in captivity and is best left to professionals. Sexual maturity is reached by age 6-8 months. Females give birth to 1-2 annual litters of 5-12 barely developed youngsters after a gestation period of only 12-13 days. The youngsters remain in her pouch for 50-65 days and are weaned at age 3-3.5 months.

Written by Frank Indiviglio


wildlife rehabilitation center, curious creatures, wildlife rehab license


aggressive way, razor sharp teeth, Federal USDA requirements, wild animal, inch-long fangs


solitary animal, snails bonus, weird naked tails, defensive posture, omnivorous scavengers

Helpful Species Review

Virginia Opossum

From Feb 25 2015 9:42AM


Health Tip

Virginia Opossum

From Feb 18 2010 8:10PM


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