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Opossum fact # 1
The word opossum was first used for the Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) only.
Opossum facts # 2
The first opossums are believed to have developed in South America during the late Cretaceous or early Paleocene. They didn’t spread to North America until the Central American land bridge was formed. The Virginia opossum is the only North American marsupial.
Opossum facts # 3
Opossums are nearly immune to rabies and eight times less likely to carry rabies compared to wild dogs. Opossums also show partial or total immunity to the venom produced by rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, and other pit vipers.
Opossum fact # 4
One of the oldest surviving descriptions of an opossum dates back to 1608 when European explorer John Smith describes the Virginia opossum like this in his ‘Map of Virginia, with a Description of the Countrey, the Commodities, People, Government and Religion’: "An Opassom hath an head like a Swine, and a taile like a Rat, and is of the bignes of a Cat. Under her belly she hath a bagge, wherein she lodgeth, carrieth, and sucketh her young."
Opossum fact # 5
If you find opossums in your neighbourhood, there is no need to be alarmed. They are not rats and they will not infect you with bubonic plague. Rabies is also extremely uncommon in opossums. Many people like to have opossums in their gardens since the opossums help them keep populations of snails, slugs and beetles in check and quickly eliminate dead birds and other unsightly carrion. Opossums will also keep rats and cockroaches away by competing with them for food, and it is actually quite common for opossums to hunt down cockroaches and rats and kill them if they find them in their territory.
Opossum facts # 6
In Mexico, opossums are known as "tlacuache" or "tlaquatzin" and their tails are believed by some to improve fertility if consumed. In the Caribbean, opossums are traditionally hunted by luring them into a trap using fruit as bait. Opossums like to eat both the fruit and the insects attracted to the fruit.
Opossum fact # 7
During the Great Depression, the Virginia Opossum was deliberately introduced to western United States, most likely to serve as a source of food. Before that, its range was limited to the south-eastern parts of the country. The southern part of the United States is especially rich in both recipes and superstitions pertaining to the opossum.
Opossum facts # 8
The female opossum has a forked vagina leading up to two separate wombs. The scientific names of the order Didelphimorphia and the family Didelphidae are both derived from the Latin word didelphis which means bouble-wombed.
Opossum fact # 9
The Gray Short-tailed Opossum (Monodelphis domestica) was the first marsupial to have its genome sequenced.
Opossum fact # 10
The Virginia Opossum is today gradually extending its range northwards and can today be found as far north as Ontario and Toronto in Canada. The reason behind its successful spread is believed to be a combination of man-made factors. Human dwellings, including sheds and garages, are providing the opossums with reasonably warm “burrows” in which they can seek shelter during the cold season, the presence of garbage, pet food/bird food and road kill makes it possible to find food even during the harshest winter months, and human activities have also created a greater abundance of freshwater sources. Global warming leading to milder winters may also benefit the opossum in the northernmost part of its range.