opossum

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opossum

(əpŏs`əm, pŏs`–), name for several marsupialsmarsupial
, member of the order Marsupialia, or pouched mammals. With the exception of the New World opossums and an obscure S American family (Caenolestidae), marsupials are now found only in Australia, Tasmania, New Guinea, and a few adjacent islands.
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, or pouched mammals, of the family Didelphidae, native to Central and South America, with one species extending N to the United States. With the exception of an obscure group found in South American forests, opossums are the only living marsupials outside the Australia–New Guinea region. Extremely abundant despite the encroachment of civilization and apparently little changed over millions of years, they owe their success to their adaptability, omnivorous diet, and rapid reproductive rate. Opossums are more or less arboreal, nocturnal animals, with long noses, naked ears, prehensile tails, and opposable hind toes tipped with flat pads. They eat small animals, eggs, insects, and fruit. The common, or Virginia, opossum, Didelphis marsupialis, ranges from Argentina to the N United States; it is found mostly in wooded areas and is common in the SE United States. The common opossum resembles a large rat, with a white face and long, coarse fur of mixed white-tipped and black-tipped hairs. It spends time both in trees and on the ground and makes nests of leaves, usually in holes in trees. When frightened it goes into a state of collapse; this involuntary "playing possum" sometimes saves it from predators, who lose interest in an apparently dead animal. The female usually has the typical marsupial pouch, although it is absent in some of the South American species. The 6 to 18 young are born after a gestation of 12 days and weigh 1-15 oz. (1.9 grams); they crawl through the mother's fur to the pouch where they are carried and nursed for three months. After emerging, they ride on the mother's back, clinging to her fur or tail with their own tails. Because it raids domestic poultry and corn, the opossum is hunted in the South as a pest, as well as for food and sport. Among the other opossum species are the tiny mouse opossums (Marmosa species) and the yapok, or water opossum (Chironectes minimus), which has webbed feet and leads a semiaquatic existence. The yapok ranges from Guatemala to Brazil. Opossums are classified in the phylum ChordataChordata
, phylum of animals having a notochord, or dorsal stiffening rod, as the chief internal skeletal support at some stage of their development. Most chordates are vertebrates (animals with backbones), but the phylum also includes some small marine invertebrate animals.
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, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Marsupialia, family Didelphidae.

Bibliography

See study by J. F. Keefe (1967).

opossum

[ə′päs·əm]
(vertebrate zoology)
Any member of the family Didelphidae in the order Marsupialia; these mammals are arboreal and mainly omnivorous, and have many incisors, with all teeth pointed and sharp.

opossum

1. any thick-furred marsupial, esp Didelphis marsupialis (common opossum), of the family Didelphidae of S North, Central, and South America, having an elongated snout and a hairless prehensile tail
2. any of various similar animals, esp the phalanger, Trichosurus vulpecula, of the New Zealand bush
References in periodicals archive ?
For several summers an opossum chose one of our chicken house's nesting boxes to have and raise her babies.
But older opossums can be bottle-fed until they can eat mushed-up dry cat food.
Opossums are known for hissing and baring their 50 teeth when cornered, but Simon says that's just an act.
Animal control workers routinely catch rats, pigeons, opossums, squirrels, bats, coyotes, raccoons, mice and skunks that have made themselves at home, said Officer Jerry White of the county Department of Animal Care and Control shelter in Castaic.
If opossums are nested in your garage, there will be an extremely foul odor,'' White said.
But this word is used to describe all infant marsupials--from koalas to opossums.
Opossums must ingest birds that contain Sarcocystis cysts in the muscle to perpetuate the parasite's life cycle.
We do occasionally get opossums,'' said Brenda Sanchez, spokeswoman for the county Department of Animal Care and Control.
A 15-pound opossum was found in a trash bin at Hawaii International Airport on Sunday night (25 September).
Now the opossum stands out as one of the few animals that has never done me any harm in any way.
The opossum leaves a hand-like track with its rear feet.