In the past 25 years the opossum has expanded its range. Now folks in central and even northwestern Minnesota can turn on their yard lights and catch sight of one eating from a dog dish or feasting on sunflower seeds from a bird feeder. Although opossums have become quite common in the Twin Cities area and throughout southern Minnesota, they are almost entirely nocturnal in their habits and therefore seldom seen by humans.

Adult opossums are the size of house cats, have short legs, are grayish-white in color, and have long hairless tails. Their leaflike ears are thin and naked. Some people say that the opossum is not very intelligent. I disagree. It has succeeded as a species where other forms have become extinct. It has also followed the progress of civilization, even into regions with severe winters, where it remains active throughout the year. Don't be surprised to see one at your wildlife feeding station this November — or even in February or March.

The opossum is special for another reason: It's North America's only marsupial. Yes, the female carries the young in a pouch on her abdomen, just like a kangaroo. Their natural habitat is a wooded area along a stream, near a lake or in a swamp. Opossums will eat almost anything organic, including carrion, spoiled fruits, fresh fruits, eggs, nuts and insects.

Opossums are slow-moving. If you or your dog chases one, it will seek safety up a tree, in a brush pile or it might even play "possum" — that is, pretend death.

Jim Gilbert's Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.