However, they are two different species. The common opossum's scientific name is Didelphis marsupialis, and the Virginia opossum's scientific name is Didelphis virginiana. These types of opossums have a cone-shaped nose with a pink tip, a long hairless tail, and white, gray and black fur.
The common opossum and Virginia opossum are found in the United States, Mexico, Central America, South America and Canada. There are several dozen different species of opossum, which are often called possums in North America. The most notable is the Virginia opossum or common opossum—the only marsupial (pouched mammal) found in the United States and Canada.
Males have forked penises and it was once thought that the reason for this was that they bred with the female's nose. It was thought that once the babies were born, the mother would sneeze the babies into her pouch. Of course that's not true!
A female opossum gives birth to helpless young which are as tiny as honeybees. Babies immediately crawl into the mother's pouch,where they continue to develop. As they get larger, they will go in and out of the pouch and sometimes ride on the mother's back as she hunts for food. Opossums may give birth to as many as 20 babies in a litter, but fewer than half of them survive. Some never even make it as far as the pouch.
Adult Opossums are about the size of small dogs, about 2.5 feet nose to tail, and weigh about 8.5 to 13 pounds. Opossums reproduce twice a year and once mating is done, the male, called a jack, leaves and doesn't return. After a gestation of just 12 to 13 days, female opossums, called jills, give birth. The babies are called joeys and stay with their mother for about 100 days. Opossums only live for one to two years.
Opossums aren't picky about where they hang out, but they love trees and will stay in them as much as possible. They also prefer areas that are wet, like marshes, swamps and streams. Being nocturnal, they spend nights searching for food. Though they don't hibernate, but slow down during the winter. They live in burrows that they fill with dry leaves or even shredded paper and fat reserves help keep them warm. In the summer they lick themselves and cover their fur in spit to keep cool.
Opossums are omnivores, which means they eat both vegetation and meat and are not picky about their food and can often be found scavenging though trash. They will also eat nuts, grass and fruit. They hunt insects, mice, wild birds, snakes, worms and chickens. In the city they will eat roadkill and garbage.
Opossums really do play dead. One article stated that when threatened by dogs, foxes, or bobcats, opossums sometimes flop onto their sides and lie on the ground with their eyes closed or staring fixedly into space. They extend their tongues and generally appear to be dead. Hopefully, this trick may put a predator off its guard and allow the opossum an opportunity to make its escape. However, several years ago our dog had one cornered next to the fence and was barking wildly at it. When I went to retrieve the dog, the opossum was bearing its teeth and making a hissing, growling noise. After the dog was safely in the house, the opossum laid motionless next to the fence for about 30 minutes before getting up and moving on. My impression was that it would, indeed, defend itself and only played dead after the danger was over. Though opossums will hiss at humans, they are rarely aggressive.
Like other marsupials, opossums have thumbs, called an opposable hallux, on their front and back paws. Their tails are prehensile and can be used to help them climb and hold onto tree branches. They also have sharp claws which dig into bark.
They are also immune to snake bites, bee stings and other toxins, They are sometimes hunted as food, particularly in the southern United States.
To clean a opossum you make an incision the entire length of the abdomen, remove all the organs. Remove the feet and head. Make another incision down the length each leg...if the possum is still warm, the skin and fur will slide right off. If it has cooled you may need to pull back a small amount of the skin and start cutting it off of the body. There is a small fat layer under the skin and it should be removed. After you are done removing the skin it's ready to cook.