Possums are one of the most common animals found in North America. They are small mammals with long tails and a short body, which they use to climb trees. Their fur is brownish gray or blackish grey, but their coloration varies greatly among individuals. Some possums have white underbelly feathers while others have blue or even green ones. Males possess larger bodies than females, although both sexes vary considerably in size depending on age and environmental conditions (see Table 1).

Table 1. Body Size of Common Mammals Species Weight (kg) Length (cm) Head Circumference Tail Circumference Male Red Kangaroo 2–3 10 9 3.5 Female Grey Squirrel 5–7 15 12 4.25 Average White Rabbit 6–8 20 14 4.75 Black Rat 8–10 25 16 5.0 Blue Otter 11–13 30 18 5.4 Brown Bear 14–16 35 19 5.6 Mountain Goat 17–19 40 21 6.2 Gray Wolf 20 45 23 7.1

The opossum is a marsupial mammal native to Australia and New Guinea, though it occurs throughout much of the world’s temperate regions including North America, South America, Africa, Asia and Europe. North America is home to two types of opossums: the Virginia Opossum and the Common Opossum. The word opossum is an Algonquin Indian word that means “white animal”.

It was a challenge to Europeans because it was the only marsupial mammal in the world; all other mammals in Europe, Africa and Asia were placentals. The name was a reminder to them that they could not classify it with familiar animals, such as the well-known domesticated cats and dogs.

There are few records of the early years of the common opossum, however, it is believed that they arrived in North America from South America on a land bridge through the Panama land bridge around 6 million years ago.

The earliest fossils of the Virginia Opossum date back to the late Miocene period, approximately 5 million years ago. Most phylogenies place it close to the beginning of the Didelphimorphia, or two-wombed womb, subclass; however, its habit of living in trees rather than on the ground leads some to suggest that it is a sister group to the rest of the order.

Sources & references used in this article:

Brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula Kerr) in a New Zealand beech (Nothofagus) forest by MN Clout, PD Gaze – New Zealand journal of ecology, 1984 – JSTOR

Sex differences in the dispersal and settlement of brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) by MN Clout, MG Efford – The Journal of Animal Ecology, 1984 – JSTOR

A live-trapping of Australian brush-tailed possums, Trichosurus vulpecula (Kerr), in the Orongorongo Valley, Wellington, New Zealand by MC Crawley – Australian journal of zoology, 1973 – CSIRO

The eradication of introduced Australian brushtail possums, Trichosurus vulpecula, from Kapiti Island, a New Zealand nature reserve by PE Cowan – Biological conservation, 1992 – Elsevier

Response of a brush-tailed possum population to intensive trapping by WQ Green, JD Coleman – New Zealand journal of zoology, 1984 – Taylor & Francis

Comparison of trap-catch and bait interference methods for estimating possum densities by MD Thomas, JA Brown, FW Maddigan… – New Zealand Plant …, 2003 – researchgate.net

The koala and possum trade in Queensland, 1906–1936 by F Hrdina, G Gordon – Australian Zoologist, 2004 – publications.rzsnsw.org.au

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