Opossums represent the oldest surviving mammal family. Ancestors resembling modern opossums lived on earth at the same time as the dinosaurs. Scientists have located seventymillion- year-old opossum fossils. The Virginia opossums are found in the United States and Canada, while relatives representing seventy species of the Didelphidae family live in Central and South America.
The Virginia opossum is the largest species of the Didelphidae family. They are about the size of a domestic cat and measure from 0.3 to 0.8 meters (1 to 2 feet) in length, with a 22 to 50 centimeter (9 to 20 inch) long tail. Their weight varies from 2 to 5.5 kilograms (4 to 12 pounds). Other opossums are much smaller, averaging 7.5 centimeters (3 inches) in length with a 5 to 10 centimeter (2 to 4 inch) long tail. Opossumshave varying lengths and thicknesses of fur, in shades of white, gray, brown, and black. Some opossums have stripes. Opossum eyes are black, and their ears are usually hairless. Their faces have a mask or are white. They have a pink nose at the end of a long, pointed, whiskered snout which has fifty sharp teeth. Their four feet and tail are also pink and hairless. Each forefoot has five toes with claws. Opossums have an opposable, thumblike toe on their hind feet that can grasp objects and cling to branches. They are arboreal animals and agile climbers. Their prehensile tails are used for balance.
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