Virginia Opossum

Scientific Name:   Didelphis virginiana


When is the best time to view opossums in Monterey County and where is the best viewing?

Opossums are scavengers that have adapted to living in urban areas and can be found throughout the United States including in Monterey and Pacific Grove. Opossums are nocturnal so the best time to spot them is at night. In addition to urban areas, opossums live in forests, woodlands, parks, aloft in trees and along bluffs.

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About Virginia Opossums

Although they prefer wetlands, opossums are quite adaptable. They can live wherever water, food and shelter are available. Opossums create dens in tree holes, as they prefer to be left alone. However, they are almost always on the move foraging for food. While opossums can hang from tree limbs using their prehensile (gripping) tail, they very rarely use their tales in this manner. Their tales are more often used as an extra limb for carrying food or climbing trees.

 While they may look fierce when confronted, opossums are actually shy. Opossums have several natural defenses when they feel threatened include hissing, growling, belching, urinating or defecating. If they continue to feel vulnerable, they will “play ‘possum”. This act is involuntary and similar to fainting in humans. Opossums roll over, become stiff, close their eyes or not blink, and secrete a foul-smelling fluid from their glands. Opossums can continue to “play ‘possum” for up to four hours to deter predators.

While an opossum that overturns trashcans may be a nuisance, these creatures can also be beneficial neighbors. Opossums are great for gardens, as they eat snails, slugs and beetles.  They also keep rats and cockroaches away by competing with these smaller creatures for food or killing them when found in their territory.  Additionally, opossums are Mother Nature’s sanitation workers. They have an unusually high need for calcium which causes them to eat skeletons of rodents and road kill.

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Virginia Opossum Fun Facts

  • North America’s only marsupial mammal (female has a pouch)
  • Have 50 sharp teeth and can eat almost anything
  •  Natural immunity to rabies (8 times less likely to carry rabies than wild dogs)
  • Have partial or total immunity to snake venom
  • Extraordinary ability to find food and remember its location
  • Have opposable thumbs (hallux) on its rear feet
  • Eyes are not black ­– they are strongly dilated pupils
  • Males are called jacks, females are called Jills, young opossums are called joeys
  • A group of opossums is called a passel
  • Babies can be as small as a honeybee and are born premature

Habitat: Moist woodlands or brushy areas near water

Length: 27 – 33 inches (tail is 12–14 inches), altogether usually 2.5 feet

Weight: 2.5 – 3.5 pounds 

Diet: Insects, snails, rodents, berries, grasses, nuts, fruit and leaves. Also hunts mice, birds, worms, snakes and chickens

Lifespan: For its size, it is one of the shortest-lived mammals averaging 2 – 4 years

Reproduction: Can give birth to as many as 20 babies in a litter – less than half of them survive