Opossum

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Opossums (Didelphimorphia, pronounced /daɪˌdɛlfɨˈmɔrfi.ə/) are the largest order of marsupials in the Western Hemisphere. They are also commonly called possums, though that term is also applied to Australian fauna of the suborder Phalangeriformes. The Virginia Opossum was the first animal to be named an opossum; usage of the name was published in 1610.[2] The word opossum comes from the Algonquian aposoum, meaning "white beast".[3] Opossums probably diverged from the basic South American marsupials in the late Cretaceous or early Paleocene.

Their unspecialized biology, flexible diet and reproductive strategy make them successful colonizers and survivors in diverse locations and conditions.[citation needed]

Contents

Characteristics

Didelphimorphs are small to medium-sized marsupials, with the largest just exceeding the size of a large house cat, and the smallest the size of a mouse. They tend to be semi-arboreal omnivores, although there are many exceptions. Most members of this taxon have long snouts, a narrow braincase, and a prominent sagittal crest. The dental formula is: Upper: 5.1.3.4, lower: 4.1.3.4 By mammalian standards, this is a very full jaw. The incisors are very small, the canines large, and the molars are tricuspid.

Didelphimorphs have a plantigrade stance (feet flat on the ground) and the hind feet have an opposable digit with no claw. Like some New World monkeys, opossums have prehensile tails. Like all marsupials, the fur consists of awn hair only, and the females have a pouch. The tail and parts of the feet bear scutes. The stomach is simple, with a small cecum.

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