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A common name for different small- to medium-sized marsupials under the mammalian order Didelphimorphia, an opossum is distinguished by its long naked tail, pointed snout, opposable thumbs, and naked ears. Typically misunderstood and thought of as dimwitted, dirty mammals whose most remarkable trick is acting like roadkill, opossums are actually smarter and more beneficial to humans compared to most of their woodland friends.
See the fact file below for more information on the opossum or alternatively, you can download our 20-page Opossum worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- Opossums are marsupials that are classified under the order Marsupialia. Unlike placental mammals, the majority of marsupials do not have a placenta which lets the developing fetus in the womb obtain nutrients from its mother. Some marsupials possess a rudimentary placenta which only works for a short period of time, like those of a bandicoot.
- A marsupial female usually has an external pouch which keeps her newborns and raises them until early infancy. The babies generally slide to this pouch after birth, and cling to milk-secreting nipples, and are nursed until they are able to thrive outside the pouch. This stage in the pouch is similar to the other phases of a placental mammal’s development in the womb.
- Marsupials also have unique reproductive traits compared to placental mammals. The female has two vaginas, which open externally through one orifice, but direct to several chambers within the uterus.
- A male opossum, on the other hand, usually has two-pronged genital parts, which complements the female’s two vaginas. The penis only passes sperm. Marsupials have a cloaca, or the only posterior opening for the intestinal and urinary tracts, that is linked to a urogenital sac in both males and females. Waste is stored there before excretion.
- Aside from the opossum, popular marsupials include kangaroos, bandicoots, and wombats. Marsupials are endemic to Australia, New Guinea, Tasmania, and the Americas. Among the 330 marsupial species, over 200 of them are native to Australia and other close islands to the north.
- Opossums, under the order Didelphimorphia, consist of one living family, Didelphidae. Opossums most likely separated from the basic South American marsupials in the late Cretaceous era or early Paleocene.
- Shrew opossums (Paucituberculata) are the opossum’s sister group. They are generally referred to as “possums”, although that label is also used to Australian fauna under the suborder Phalangeriformes.
- Opossums are small to medium-sized marsupials. The largest recorded size of an opossum resembles the size of a large house cat. These creatures stand three to 22 inches and weigh 0.9 ounces to 11 pounds. Most members of this taxon grow slender snouts, a narrow braincase, and a noticeable sagittal crest. The dental formula of opossums includes five very small incisors, one large canine, three premolars, and four tricuspid molars.
- Opossums stand with their feet flat on the ground, which is a plantigrade stance. Their back feet have an opposable digit without any claw.
- Similar to other primates, opossums grow prehensile tails. They also have a simple stomach with a small cecum. Their reproductive systems are basic, with a reduced marsupium, causing their babies to be born at a very early age.
- They are slightly sexually dimorphic; males are relatively larger than females.
- Their coat color ranges from nearly pure white to blackish, with some opossum species having a single color and others with unique light and dark bands.
- They also have a remarkably strong immune system, displaying partial or total immunity to the venom of rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, and other pit vipers. This adaptation is caused by their low blood temperature.
- Opossums live for only two to four years.
- As early as 1565, an opossum was initially described in a published letter entitled “Carigueya, Seu Marsupiale Americanum Masculum. Or, The Anatomy of a Male Opossum: In a Letter to Dr Edward Tyson, from Mr William Cowper, Chirurgeon, and Fellow of the Royal Society, London. To Which are Premised Some Further Observations on the Opossum; And a New Division of Terrestrial Brute Animals, Particularly of Those That Have Their Feet Formed Like Hands. Where an Account is Given of Some Animals Not Yet Described”.
DISTRIBUTION, DIET, AND BEHAVIOR
- Opossums are semi-arboreal omnivores, although this does not apply to all species. Generally, they are opportunistic omnivores with a diverse diet, including insects, fruits, small animals, grains, and eggs. Their random diet, unspecialized anatomy, and reproductive techniques make them successful survivors in recorded history.
- Originally endemic to the eastern region of the United States, the Virginia opossum was introduced to the west during the Great Depression, most likely as a source of food. Its range spread northwards, and extended into Ontario, Canada.
- These marsupials are normally nomadic, staying in one area as long as resources are adequate. Though they will occasionally inhabit abandoned burrows, opossums do not dig nor put much effort into building their own homes. They prefer living in dark, secure areas, underground or on the surface.
- When they sense danger, they will “play possum”, mimicking the look and smell of a sick or dead animal, usually displaying drawn back lips, bared teeth, saliva foams around the mouth, and a foul-smelling fluid is emitted from the anal glands. Opossums do not have control of this physiological response, and the best thing to do upon spotting an injured or apparently dead opossum is to transfer it to a quiet place with a clear exit, since the animal will regain consciousness and escape on its own after several hours.
USE AS FOOD
- Opossums are a favorite game animal in the United States, especially in southern regions which have a number of recipes and myths relating to the opossum.
- In Dominica and Trinidad, the opossum is well-known and can only be hunted in specific months due to over-hunting. Its meat is customarily prepared through smoking and stewing.
- According to historical contexts, hunters in the Caribbean would install a barrel filled with fresh or rotten fruits to lure opossums. Cubans from the mid-twentieth century used to brush the maggots out of the mouths of opossums caught by this method.
- In Mexico, opossums are called “tlacuache” or “tlacuatzin”. Their tails are consumed as a folk remedy to cure fertility.
- Opossum oil, or possum grease, is rich in essential fatty acids and has been used as a chest rub and topical for arthritis.
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the opossum across 20 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Opossum worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the opossum which is distinguished by its long naked tail, pointed snout, opposable thumbs, and naked ears. Typically misunderstood and thought of as dimwitted, dirty mammals whose most remarkable trick is acting like roadkill, opossums are actually smarter and more beneficial to humans compared to most of their woodland friends.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Opossum Facts
- Creature Feature
- Adjectives Please
- Opossum or Not?
- An Opossum’s Life
- Noted Marsupials
- Opossum Species
- Playing Possum
- Opossum Acrostic
- Human Uses
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Link will appear as Opossum Facts & Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, February 17, 2021
Use With Any Curriculum
These worksheets have been specifically designed for use with any international curriculum. You can use these worksheets as-is, or edit them using Google Slides to make them more specific to your own student ability levels and curriculum standards.