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The opossum, or "possum", is a marsupial, either a member of the taxonomic family Didelphidae native to the Western hemisphere. They are often confused with the possums of Australia and nearby regions, which were named after the opossum due to their similarities.
The most well-known opossum is the Virginia opossum Didelphis virginiana of North America. It is known for its shaggy gray fur, humanlike forepaws, naked ears, long naked prehensile tail, and the marsupial pouch (in the case of the female) or the unusual bifurcated member (in the case of the male).
The opossum has the dubious honor of being one of the best-known roadkill animals, due to the fact that it is nocturnal (drivers are less likely to notice it until too late) and that its first instinct when threatened is to swoon. This habit has led to a legendary folkloric treatment in popular artforms. In fact, if an opossum is cornered, it is a very fierce fighter. The well-established idea that all opossums sleep hanging by their tails is likewise mistaken; most opossums become too heavy for this by the time they reach adulthood, or at very least, they cannot count on their tails not to relax after they fall asleep.
Opossums were used as a cultural stereotype in a certain lesser-known WWII-era Looney Tunes cartoon, and one of Tex Avery's Barney Bear cartoons featured one, but other characters are far more recent. A couple of these include Thelma Possum from Nip and Tuck and Frye Opossum from Room For One More, both Southern belle types.