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The Virginia opossum is a mammal that most of us have heard about and seen. But there are many things about our opossum that are often misunderstood. For example, our opossum has a relative bare muscular tail that is prehensile – meaning it can use it to hang on or to pick things up and carry them. But, contrary to popular belief, the opossum usually does not hang by its tail – at least not for very long. But that tail has some important functions: it helps when an opossum is climbing; it can be used to carry things – such as nest material or its young; and it can be used to assist in swimming. The Virginia opossum also has two layers of hair – short, more dense white to gray hair that serves as insulation, and very strong, less dense, long hairs that protect the dense short hairs from wear as the opossum pushes through dense vegetation. Opossums don’t “play possum” but their “dead” appearance may protect them from potential predators, and that open, drooling mouth with many sharp teeth of one that is cornered poses little threat.

Finally, the name “opossum” originated with Native Americans in eastern North America. It means “white face” – which our opossum has.