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The opossum is a species that can appear cute and furry for those people who have never actually encountered one in the flesh, but for those who have these animals around their area, they can prove to be a real nuisance. Opossums are the largest species of marsupial to be found in the Western Hemisphere, and while they originally developed in South America, it is in North America where the species has really developed. These creatures are actually quite large, and because they had plenty of fur they were historically one of the biggest targets for hunters, as they not only provided their pelt but also edible meat too.
When Do Opossums Reach Adulthood?
One of the interesting aspects of the marsupial physiology is that the young opossums are actually carried by their mother in a small pouch, and they spend a significant amount of their early months in this pouch. The baby opossums can take up to four months to be weaned by their mother, and will continue to grow gradually until they reach adulthood at between nine and twelve months, when they will start to become sexually active. When they have reached maturity, the male opossum is generally slightly larger and heavier than the female, and can also be distinguished at close quarters as its canine teeth are also larger than those of the female.
The Best Conditions For Opossums To Grow
Much like other species that have thrived around human areas, opossums are capable of processing a variety of different food sources, and for this reason the diet of the species can be quite varied as they are generally opportunistic scavengers. In terms of areas where the opossums are most successful, areas with a good range of scavenging options can prove to be very good, which is why they have thrived in areas around human habitation. The other feature to consider is that opossums thrive in areas with fewer predators, so low populations of foxes, owls and other large predatory birds all help to give opossums the chance to grow larger.
The Largest Examples Of Opossums Discovered
Opossums are a species that have a relatively high mortality rate, so the largest specimens are usually those who have successfully survived their first year or two, joining the older opossums in the species. The most common opossum species in the United States is the Virginia Opossum, which is generally considered to be the largest and can grow to around three feet in length, without including the tail, and the largest males will commonly weight around fourteen pounds. Like many hunted species, there are plenty of tall tales of huge opossums that have been caught, while those that have been verified are usually up to around twenty pounds.
There have been fossils of a larger species of opossum which could have had adults that regularly weighed over sixteen pounds found in South America, but these are believed to be extinct.
Problems Caused By Opossums Thriving
While the opossum is favored by hunters for the meat and the fur that they provide, one of the biggest issues for many people is that opossums can actually cause a lot of problems, particularly when they are a growing population within an urban area. They can be a real problem for motorists as they are prone to freezing when they cross a road at night, and see the headlights coming, meaning they can become roadkill quite easily. As they approach they can also jump into the air, causing more damage to the vehicle. However, the main nuisance that opossums can cause is by their scavenging, as they will often tear open garbage sacks or break into pet food stores in order to eat.
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