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What is a Virginia Opossum and what are some of its characteristics?

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The Virginia opossum is widely known throughout North America. The "Virginia" epithet is somewhat misleading because nothing about the state of Virginia is particularly relevant to the animal. Its habitat encompasses virtually the entire United States, as well as parts of Mexico and Canada. One of the opossum's main distinctions is that it is the only known naturally occurring marsupial currently found in these regions.

An early description of the animal by European settlers described it as being about the size of a cat, with the face of a pig and the tail of a rat. This is largely accurate. The animal generally has an elongated snout with prominent teeth, white and gray fur, and dark circles around the eyes.

The opossum is more commonly called a "possum" (rhymes with "awesome") and may be most commonly associated with its habit of "playing dead" when confronted. This tendency has led to the term "playing possum" to imply someone is feigning weakness. The opossum isn't actually playing; its feigned death is a form of induced coma. The "death" may be a defense mechanism that tricks a predator into believing the possum is already dead and decaying, and therefore hazardous to eat.

Possums are very common in urban areas and tend to behave as omnivorous nocturnal scavengers.

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