Although the Virginia opossum is mostly arboreal and terrestrial, it is also a strong swimmer with no fear of water and can seal its pouch and nostrils, hold its breath, float, swim, and dive with ease.
The Virginia opossum uses three main types of locomotion, which includes arboreal, terrestrial, and aquatic.
It has been noted that the opossum will employ swimming but mainly as an escape mechanism. The Virginia opossum has been described as a strong swimmer and has been noted to have no fear of water. It can float with relative ease. All accounts state that immediately after entering the water the opossum would engage in underwater swimming. It has also been noted that the opossum will dive and travel under water up to a distance of 15 feet without surfacing to breath.
The species engages in two different types of swimming. The swimming technique used most often resembles terrestrial locomotion used by the animal and the other has been described as “similar to that of a pacing horse.” The toes are usually spread apart during swimming, and the tail has been noted to move from side to side.
The animal controls the closing of its nostrils with ease and has been observed resting while completely submerged under water. The eyes may also remain open during under water swimming. The opossum was also examined upon exiting the water with the pouch carrying the young sealed so tightly that it could not be opened. This may prove previously stated knowledge to be true that a mother opossum can close her pouch so tightly that water may not enter.
Shivering has been recorded in response to swimming in low temperature water. It has been stated that large bodies of water, especially cold water, might serve as a distribution barrier due to the opossum’s rapid exhaustion and shivering response.
The species is known to defecate in the water while engaging in swimming activities.
Sources: (Doutt, 1954; McManus, 1974; Moore 1955; Wilemon, 2008)
Image: Greg Schechter