The Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana), commonly known as the North American Opossum, is the only marsupial found in North America north of Mexico. A solitary and nocturnal animal about the size of a domestic cat, and thus the largest opossum, it is a successful opportunist. It is familiar to many North Americans as it is often seen near towns, rummaging through garbage cans, or lying by the road, a victim of traffic.
The Virginia Opossum is the original animal named "opossum". The word comes from Algonquian 'wapathemwa' meaning "white animal", not from Greek or Latin, so the plural is opossums. Colloquially, the Virginia Opossum is frequently called simply possum. The name is applied more generally to any of the other marsupials of the Didelphimorphia and Paucituberculata orders, which includes a number of opossum species in South America.
The possums of Australia, whose name is derived from a similarity to the Virginia Opossum, are also marsupials, but of the order Diprotodontia.
The Virginia Opossum is found throughout Central America and North America east of the Rockies from Costa Rica to southern Ontario; it seems to be still expanding its range northward and has been found farther north than Toronto. Its ancestors evolved in South America, but invaded North America in the Great American Interchange, which was enabled by the formation of the Isthmus of Panama about 3 million years ago.
Originally native to the eastern United States, it was intentionally introduced into the West during the Great Depression, probably as a source of food,and now occupies much of the Pacific coast. Its range has been expanding steadily northwards into Canada, .
Virginia Opossums can various considerably in size, with larger specimens found to the north of the opposum's range and smaller specimens in the tropics. They measure 13–37 inches (35–94 cm) long from their snout to the base of the tail, with the tail adding another 8.5–19 inches (21.6–47 cm). Weight for males ranges from 1.7 to 14 pounds (0.8–6.4 kg) and for females from 11 ounces to 8.2 pounds (0.3–3.7 kg). Their coats are a dull grayish brown, other than on their faces, which are white. Opossums have long, hairless, prehensile tails, which can be used to grab branches and carry small objects. They also have hairless ears and a long, flat nose. Opossums have 50 teeth and opposable, clawless thumbs on their rear limbs.
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