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11.2: Didelphis virginiana: Virginia Opossum

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12

Common Name

  • Virginia Opossum
  • Possum
  • Common Opossum

Description

Didelphis virginiana, also known as the Virginia opossum, is a species of the class Mammalia.  The Virginia Opossum is the only marsupial that inhabitants North America. The Virginia opossum is a slow mover, and it can be found in urban areas. The Opossum is the size of a regular domesticated cat, and it has a grey grizzly coat of fur.  Possums can be found often in a backyard.  They scavenge leftover food and compost from your trash cans.  The opossum is famous for its signature move, “playing possum”. If  harmed or threatened, the Virginia opossum will collapse to the ground, and release a foul smell.  It convinces predators the prey is dead, and they will leave the “dead body” alone.

The complete taxonomic classification is:

  • Kingdom: Animalia 
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia 
  • Order: Didelphimorphia
  • Family: Didelphidae
  • Genus: Didelphis
  • Species: D. virginiana

Habitat

D. virginiana lives in North and Central America.  It lives in many areas including rainforests, urban settings, and wetlands.

Biology

Cell Biology

D. virginiana, like all mammals and other animals, has eukaryotic cells. Eukaryotic cells have nuclei and other organelles. Organelles are like micro-sized organs. They include the endoplasmic reticulum, Golgi bodies, ribosomes and mitochondria.  The Golgi bodies are carry protein within and out of the cells.  Ribosomes produce protein in the cell, and mitochondria is where the cell burns sugar for energy. All animals have eukaryotic cells in their body, so that is not unique to the opossum.

Evolution

Marsupial evolution has dated back to 130 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. The Cretaceous period was the the time period when the dinosaurs died out. The earliest form of the marsupial was Sinodelphys, which is an extinct animal now. Early marsupials were very small, and ate small insects.

Ecology

Possums don’t interact with other species as much because the Virginia opossum is prey to many animals. Opossums are prey to coyotes, bears, foxes, mountain lions, and other large mammals.  The opossum's diet however consists of insects, frogs, snakes, small mammals, roadkill, and trash.  Opossums mate 2-3 times a year, so they could possibly give birth to 75 young a year.  The mother can have 25 babies at a time. When the babies are born, they attach to the mother’s feeding stations. However, the mother only has 13 feeding stations, so 12 out of 25 will not survive. Even for the fortunate babies that have latched on to the mother, they can grow ill very quickly. 

Anatomy and Physiology

Virginia Opossums have 50 teeth, more than any mammal. Male opossums have a forked penis, and female opossums have a forked vagina. Virginia opossums tend to have many young. When Opossums give birth, they can have up to 25 offsprings. The Virginia Opossum, like all other mammals, has mammary glands. 

Behavior

Opossums are not normally aggressive, but they will be if threatened or harmed. They will hiss defensively, warning the predator to stay back. If in terror, they will drop and mimic death.

References

Attribution

Authors

  • Orion Silva
  • Arian Tabatabaei
  • Luca Addario

Supervising Faculty

  • Amy Huff Shah

Affiliation

  • Museum School, San Diego, California

Status

  • Published prior to review.

Edit History

  • Created: April 5, 2013
  • Version 1.0 submitted to CK-12: July 5, 2013
  • CK-12 edits: in progress

Level

  • Middle School (grades 6-8)

Image Attributions

Description

Subjects:

Grades:

6 , 7 , 8 , 9 , 10 , 11 , 12

Date Created:

Apr 17, 2012

Last Modified:

Dec 05, 2014
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CK.SCI.ENG.SE.1.Biodiversity.11.2

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