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Virginia Opossum - Early Childhood Edition

Virginia opossum Didelphus virginiana
The Basics
The Virginia opossum is a mammal.
Some individuals are close to black, while others may be more gray, white or brown. The face has white fur and a long, pointed pink nose. Its ears are black and without hairs. The tail is round. This prehensile tail is flexible and can be used to wrap around or grasp objects. The opossum also has an opposable toe on each hind foot. It is the innermost toe, and it is clawless. This special digit has a range of movement much like your thumb, and allows for this foot to assist in many tasks, like climbing.
The head-body length is 15 inches to 24 inches. The tail is nine inches to 20 inches long. The male Virginia opossum is larger than the female.
This mammal is common statewide in Illinois. It lives in woodlands, along streams, in brushy areas, cities and farms. Its home is a den that may be placed in a former woodchuck or skunk burrow, hollow log or tree, brush pile or under or inside a building.
It will eat plant products (fruits, grains, seeds) and animals/animal products (insects, birds, eggs, reptiles, worms). It will also eat other materials that it finds as it searches for food, such as garbage, pet food and animals that have been killed on roads by vehicles.
Breeding occurs from late January into February. They usually mate a second time in May. The average litter size is eight. The young are born very immature. The entire litter would fit easily in a teaspoon. After birth, the young crawl to their mother's pouch where they continue to develop. They leave the pouch two to three months later.
Food Source:
Many opossums are killed by vehicles on roads, and those are often eaten by turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) and other scavengers. Opossums are also caught and eaten by dogs, coyotes (Canis latrans), great horned owls (Bubo virginianus), foxes, raccoons (Procyon lotor), bobcats (Lynx rufus) and American minks (Neovison vison).
What Else?
The Virginia opossum has more teeth (50) than any other land mammal.
Can I Hunt It?
Yes. This mammal is a furbearer. It is trapped and hunted for the fur it can provide. See the regulations in the most current issue of the Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations.

 Educator Suggestions

​1. Watch the Virginia Opossum video podcast with the students. Discuss with them the information shown above and in the video.
2. Use the information presented above and the following suggestions to help you meet some of the Benchmarks of the Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards. Please do not be limited by these suggestions or by these Standards. The information can be used in several subject areas.
Goal 11, Learning Standard 11.A: Develop beginning skills in the use of science and engineering practices, such as observing, asking questions, solving problems and drawing conclusions.
Have the students develop questions about the Virginia opossum that were not answered in the text or video. Let them build models or perform experiments to represent their ideas. If applicable, let them test the ideas and collect data. Involve math and computational skills. Describe the results and provide explanations.
Students want to know how Virginia opossums survive in winter.
Let the students predict how they think these mammals survive. Look at photos and videos of opossums. Talk about the fur that covers the body. What about the parts of this animal that do not have fur? How might they keep these body parts warm? Do they need to keep them warm? How can behaviors keep you warm? Where will they find food in winter? See if the students can test some of their ideas. Use videos, books or ask an expert to find answers, if needed.
Goal 12, Learning Standard 12.A: Understand that living things grow and change.
Goal 12, Learning Standard 12.B: Understand that living things rely on the environment and/or others to live and grow.
Use the images from this month’s Kids for Conservation® edition (regular version) and the video podcast about the Virginia Opossum to show students some of the aspects of the life of this species. Talk about what these animals need to survive and where they might obtain those items. Ask them to imagine life as a Virginia Opossum and compare it to their daily life as a human. How are they the same? How are they different? How do humans affect Virginia opossums? How do Virginia opossums affect humans? 
Goal 13, Learning Standard 13.A: Understand rules to follow when investigating and exploring.
Goal 13, Learning Standard 13.B: Use tools and technology to assist with science and engineering investigations.
Depending on what questions the students develop and test, they may need to use scientific and technological tools to help them discover the answers.