Virginia Opossum
Didelphis virginiana

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distribution map of opossum

Opossum. Painting by Louis Agassiz Fuertes. After Nelson, 1918.



Opossums most often inhabit deciduous woodlands but may also be found in prairies, marshes, and farmlands. In the West, they generally keep to the vegetative areas along streams and rivers, a habit which allows them to exist in the otherwise treeless grasslands and deserts of West Texas. In the eastern portion of the Trans-Pecos, they tend to occur only in riparian areas associated with the Rio Grande, and they are known to occur here on the basis of a "single specimen collected in 1924 at El Paso" (Schmidly 1977:14, 25). They prefer hollow trees and logs, but opossums will den in assorted other areas including woodpiles, rock piles, crevices in cliffs, under buildings, in attics, and in underground burrows. They are not particularly skilled in the art of digging, and as a result tend to make use of burrows excavated by other mammals (Davis and Schmidly, 1994). These mammals are generally nocturnal and are much more active in the warmer seasons than in winter (Alden et al. 1999). The term "playing possum" originates from the fact that an opossum may pretend to be dead when it is cornered (Burt and Grossenheider 1976).—ahh


Occurrences in the northern Chihuahuan Desert appear to be introductions. There is a specimen from El Paso collected in 1985 in the Laboratory for Environmental Biology collections in addition to the one cited by Schmidly (1977)—ahh.


A. Ruth Huckaby, Graduate Student, BIOL 5301-Natural History of the Chihuahuan Desert, June 2006.

A. H. Harris, Centennial Museum

Last Update: 23 Jun 2006