Opossum Skull: Opossum Skeleton Anatomy and Identification

opossum skull
An opossum skull measures about 3.72 inches in length. They have an elongated skull structure and a short basicranial region. Their most distinguishable feature is their dental set, consisting of 50 teeth divided into incisors, canines, premolars, and molars.

An opossum skeleton doesn’t vary much between species. This vertebrate’s most prominent skeletal feature—its spine—is composed of 2 sacral vertebrae, 6 lumbar, 7 cervical, 13 thoracic, and 27 caudal vertebrae. Let’s learn more about opossum skulls and skeletons!

How Do You Identify an Opossum Skull?

An opossum’s skull is characterized by its larger dental formula and small basicranial regionThe most prominent feature of an opossum skull is the large, protruding mandible that houses 50 different teeth—a trait not found in any other mammal.

The anatomy of an opossum skull typically consists of the following parts:

  • Skull
  • Orbital Cavity
  • Sagittal crest
  • Mandible
  • Incisors
  • Canines
  • Molars
  • Pre-molars
  • Zygomatic Arch

Opossums are also the only marsupials found in North America. So, if you see a skull with these identifying features, you can be sure it’s from an opossum and not any other marsupial.

How Big Is an Opossum Skull?

According to one study, the average skull length of the common opossum was 9.47 cm or about 3.72 inches. The opossum’s facial length was around 3.47 cm, while their facial width was about 3.02 cm. The skull of an adult opossum is also typically larger than that of a skunk or raccoon.

How Do You Clean an Opossum Skull?

Regardless of whether you’re cleaning a Virginian Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) or an American opossum skull, the skull cleaning process is largely similar.

This applies to other types of mammal skulls as well, including:

  • Coyote skull
  • Beaver skull
  • Mink skulls
  • Red fox skull
  • Raccoon skull
  • Bobcat skull

That said, here’s how to clean a common opossum (Didelphimorphia) skull:

  1. First, scrub them clean with a stiff brush, dish soap, and warm water to remove any remaining flesh.
  2. Submerge the skull into a bucket of hydrogen peroxide solution
    • (50% hydrogen peroxide, 50% water)
    • The 3% concentration of hydrogen peroxide you can buy at the store will work just fine.
  3. Leave it in the solution for a day.
  4. Remove the skull from the solution.
    • If any bony pieces like teeth come loose, stick them with wood glue.
opossum skull reflecting on glass

What Does the Skull of an Opossum Look Like?

An opossum skull looks elongated, long, and filled with teeth. If you spot an entire opossum skeleton, the size of the skull in relation to the rest of the animal bones will be noticeably larger compared to other mammals of its stature.

How Many Teeth Do Opossum Skulls Have?

Opossums have 50 teeth, the largest among any other wild mammal in North America.

This is the breakdown of these omnivores’ dental formula:

  • Incisors
    • Opossums have 18 incisors; ten maxillary incisors and eight mandibular incisors.
    • These teeth aid the possum in pulling leaves and insects off the ground.
  • Canines
    • Opossums have 4 prominent canines, 2 at the top and 2 at the bottom.
    • This large set of teeth helps them pierce the skin of smaller prey.
  • Pre-molars
    • Opossums have 12 sets of pre-molars, each at the top and bottom at each side of the mouth.
    • This helps them chew.
  • Molars
    • Opossums have 16 tricuspid molars, eight at the top and eight at the bottom.
    • These teeth help cut and grind leaves, fruits, and insects.

Do Possums Have a Spine?

Yes, possums have a spine. Much like other marsupials, the anatomy doesn’t undergo drastic changes throughout its lifecycle except for size.

The vertebrae that make up the possum’s spinal column consist of 7 cervical vertebrae, 13 thoracic vertebrae, 6 lumbar spines, 2 sacral spines, and 26 to 29 cauda vertebrae.

opossum skeleton including spine

Do Opossums Have Bones?

Yes! Opossums are vertebrates, so they have a bony skeleton on the inside. This is also the case for other marsupials, such as kangaroos and koalas. Some prominent skeletal features of an opossum include:

  • Femur
  • Phalanges
  • Metacarpals
  • Carpals
  • Radius
  • Ulna
  • Tarsals
  • Fibula
  • Pubis
  • Ischium

There are many more bones that make up the opossum skeleton. But the above are some of the more notable ones.

Are Possums Dumb or Smart?

Possums are intelligent creatures. A study showed that possums can remember which routes lead to food and which ones don’t.

In fact, they could even get to the food quicker than rats, cats, and dogs. This means that they are capable of making mental maps, given the right motivation.

What Did a Possum Evolve From?

According to one study in the journal PLOS ONE, the marsupial lineage was traced back from peradectids during the Cretaceous–Paleogene period. Not only that, but the marsupial split of the possum from other marsupials occurred 65 million years ago.

They’ve remained the same since then. This is because they live in stable environments with ample food sources and don’t need to go through another round of evolution. At least, for now.

Joshua Munoz

Most people’s first instinct when they see a wild skunk is to back away, but not Joshua. He holds a near-obsessive fascination with skunks and their behavior. Although Joshua has never been closer than five feet to a skunk, he has spent countless hours researching them. He knows almost everything there is to know about skunks, from their diet and habitat, to how to humanely trap them. Joshua’s interest in skunks is rooted in his love of animal biology. He fondly remembers topping his finals in biology class while in university. Now, as a writer, he fuses passion and expertise into one by sharing his knowledge about the animal kingdom with others.

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