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The opossum tail and its many uses

Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana) are the only marsupials in the United States and we are proud to share our yard with them. Because they’re nocturnal, we almost never actually see them, but we know they’re here, thanks to our camera traps. Recently we managed to film a very interesting opossum behavior: how an opossum uses its tail. Check out the video below showing the opossum tail in action!

Opossum on a log on a rainy night
Virginia opossum in our yard, photographed with a DSLR camera trap.

The opossum tail is used to carry nesting material

Opossums use their prehensile tail to carry nesting material (leaves, twigs, corn husks…) back to their dens. This is how they do it: opossums pick up leaves with their mouths and then pass them to the front feet, then to their back feet. They curl their tail over the top of the bundle of leaves and carry this bedding around with their semi-prehensile tails as if it was a fifth limb! 

We’ve caught this behavior a few times on our trail cameras. The video below is the latest, where an opossum is seen grabbing leaves and taking them to his den, which is only about 10 feet from our house. We deliberately leave our leaves on the ground in the fall so opossums, woodchucks, and squirrels can take them to their nests. Opossums do not dig their own dens. Our neighbor here is using a woodchuck burrow. Leaves are used to line the den, increasing insulation through the cold winter.

Opossum tails are used for balancing when climbing trees

While young opossums can hang by their tail (if they are made to do so), adult opossums are too heavy and they don’t use their tail for hanging. But they do use it for balancing and stabilizing on branches when climbing trees.

Opossum or possum?
Young opossum on a tree branch

Opossum tails are not handles

Grabbing a fully grown opossum by the tip of its tail can seriously harm it by dislocating tail bones.

To learn more about opossums read our article Possum vs Opossum: What’s the Difference?


Wednesday 24th of January 2024

I wish more people appreciated opossums! They are such amazing creatures.