Opossum

Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) as seen in our Estuary Trail exhibit.

This animal is not part of an Aquarium exhibit, but is rather a wild species that may be seen along the Oregon Coast.

A species native to eastern North America, Opossums (sometimes just called possums) arrived in the Pacific Northwest in the early twentieth century. Their introduction to Oregon appears to have been accidental, probably the result of a careless pet owner allowing some to escape into the wild. Regardless of how they arrived, they seem intent on staying. Like many other invasive animals, the Opossum benefits from being a generalist – an animal that can thrive in a wide variety of environments because it can easily adapt to changing conditions and make use of different resources. This is especially true of the Opossum’s diet – where no food seems unpalatable. In fact, these animals can and will eat everything from berries to road kill. Dextrous paws make them excellent climbers so fences present little challenge to them. Like raccoons, they may invade yards, raid trash cans or tear up gardens in search of a quick meal; and are therefore considered nuisance animals by many home owners. 

There are a variety of Oregon predators which hunt these mammals, including Coyotes, Raccoons, Bobcats and owls. When they encounter a threat, Opossums will often “play dead” by lying motionless and excreting a foul-smelling liquid from their anal glands. 

Because they are both solitary and nocturnal, it may be difficult to spot an Opossum in the wild. They can grow to be the size of a domesticated cat, but with physical features more reminiscent of a rat. Their fur on their face is generally white but becomes mottled toward the long, thin tail. The ears and tail are virtually hairless and dark in color. 

Range and Habitat 

Opossums prefer to live in forested areas close to water. They will often take over burrows created by other species or find shelter in tree hollows, logs and rock piles. 

Conservation Status 

A common invasive animal in Oregon

PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of the Oregon Department of Fish and Game.

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