Nicknamed the living fossil, the opossum dates back to the days of the dinosaur.
The opossum is the only living marsupial (mammal with a pouch) in North America today.
Weighing in at 9 pounds, the opossum has a white face, a fuzzy grey body, naked ears, and a scaly, prehensile tail. Prehensile means that the tail is adapted for seizing, grasping, and wrapping itself around objects. The common picture of opposums hanging by their tails is, for the most part, a myth. A young oposum may hang briefly by its tail. But an adult opossum's body is far too heavy to be held suspended by its tail. The opossum actually uses its tail to stabilize its body while climbing.
Opossums are not related to rats. They are marsupials and are exceptionally clean. Like cats, they are fastidious and groom themselves.
Opossums are extremely resistant to disease. They have a strong resistance to rabies and to snake bites, including rattlesnakes.
Opossums are sometimes referred to as the sanitation engineers of the forest. They help to keep the environment clean by consuming carion and all kinds of bugs, including roaches. They help gardeners by consuming snails, slugs, and other destructive creatures. They also eat over ripe fruit before it rots and catch and eat rats. In fact, opossums will eat just about anything. Leave a bowl of cat food or dog food out long enough and you'll probably attract a opposum. But you may never see your extra dinner guest: opossums are strictly nocturnal.
Opossums carry bundles of leaves and stems clasped in their tails when they are building nests.
Opossums are born after a gestation period of only 13 days. Blind, embryonic in appearance, and about the size of a bee, the newborn opossum crawls unaided to its mother's pouch. The nipple completely fills the tiny opossum's mouth, firmly attaching it to its mother. The opossum then remains in the mother's pouch for another 7 weeks, until it is large enough to detach itself from the nipple.
Mother opossums carry their babies on their backs, each night, when they prowl for food. Grown opossums generally live alone.
Opossums are non-aggressive creatures. Generally, they will flee from danger. However, in extreme circumstances, they will go into a state of shock which causes their bodies to become stiff and their breathing to slow down. Drool will trickle from their mouths. In many cases, a predator will give up its attack, on the assumption that the opossum is already dead.