Discover Nature: Opossum

Feb 14, 2017

This week on Discover Nature, we take a look at Missouri’s cousin to the kangaroo.

A Virginia opossum walks in search of food after a snow storm at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area in Boone County. Missouri’s only native marsupial, opossums breed and birth litters of young in February.
Credit Missouri Department of Conservation

The Didelphis virginiana, or the Virginia opossum, is the only marsupial found in Missouri.  These furbearers grow to 2-3 feet in length (including their 9-15 inch-long tails).  They prefer wooded areas near streams for habitat, though they’re common across the state and in urban areas.

Opossums start breeding in February.  They complete a 12-13-day gestation period by the end of this month, giving birth to litters of young – each, blind, and less than a half inch long.  At birth they make their way to their mother’s fur-lined pouch where they nurse until they are weaned in May.

Despite their often ominous hissing when confronted, opossums pose little danger to humans.  In fact, opossums feed on many insects considered injurious by farmers and they also perform an important ecosystem function by feeding on carrion.  Opossums fall prey to foxes, bobcats, owls, and other predators.

Learn more about the Virginia opossum with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s online field guide.

Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.