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Opossums: Natural Science

What are Opossums?


The Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) is more closely related to kangaroos than to any other mammal in North America. It’s our only member of the ancient group of animals called the marsupials, or animals with pouches.

Opossum is the official name. However, both opossum and “possum” were written down by early colonists as approximate translations of the Virginia Algonquian word “apousoum,” which meant “white animal.”  While once non-existent in New England, opossums are abundant in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. They can even be found as far north as Vermont and Maine.

Virginia opossums are about the size of housecats, and are mostly grey, with a white face. They have a pointed nose, short legs, and a long rat-like tail. These animals walk in a curiously slow, hobbling manner. However, they’re able climbers. They often use their flexible tails for balance, or to hold nesting material when climbing, and young use their tails to cling to their mothers’ backs.

(Continue reading from Massachusetts Audubon)

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