Possum vs. Opossum | The Difference Between a Possum and an Opossum

Often confused due to their similar names, possum vs. opossum are distinctly separate creatures that inhabit different parts of the world. Understanding the differences between these two marsupials goes beyond their geographical origins. It extends to physical characteristics, behaviors, and ecological roles. In this article, we are going to take a look at detailed information about possum and opossum. Infographics and example sentences are included to help you identify both of them easily.

Possum vs. Opossum

Key Takeaways

  • Possums and opossums are different animals from separate continents.
  • They can be distinguished by physical traits like their tails.
  • Opossums are typically found in North America, while possums are common in Australia.

Possum vs. Opossum: What's the Difference Between a Possum and an Opossum?

“Playing possum”

For those who are familiar with this saying, we understand what it means and are even able to visualize this act in motion. A small marsupial is confronted with the prospect of confrontation. As peaceful animals, they prefer not to fight and instead will lay down and pretend they are dead until the confrontation has passed. This is often referred to as an opossum playing possum because it is scared.

Why use opossum and possum in the last sentence? Wouldn’t it be easier to simply use possum? People often shorten opossum to possum, and it is common for people to use these two spelling interchangeably. Possum and opossum are not the same and should not be used interchangeably as they are entirely different animals from vastly different regions of the world. The Opossum lives in North America, while the possum lives in Australia and the Indonesian islands of New Guinea and Sulawesi.

Depending on which animal you are referring to, will make a difference to which you insert into a sentence. Familiarizing yourself with the difference between the two animals (possum vs opossum) will help to ensure you use the correct one.

Possum vs. Opossum: the Definitions

Defining Opossum

An opossum is a marsupial of the order Didelphimorphia endemic to the Americas. The most commonly known species is the Virginia opossum, which is also the only marsupial found in the wild in the United States and Canada.

They are recognizable by their long heads and pointed snouts. They have long slender bodies with rounded naked ears. Each opossum is covered in coarse hair that is black, grayish-white, or reddish with white-tipped hair. Their fore and hind feet have five toes, and their opposable innermost toe on the hind feet makes them excellent tree climbers. They have a long prehensile tail that can be used as an extra limb. They grow between 21 and 36 inches long and weigh 4 and 15 pounds.

These slow-moving creatures are nocturnal and are scavengers. They nest in tree holes or in dens made by other animals.

Defining Possum

They are marsupials in the order of Diprotodontia. There are 70 suborder tree-living marsupial species native to Australia and the Indonesian islands of New Guinea and Sulawesi. Other animals belonging to this order are kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, and wombats.

The physical description for possums varies across their 70 sub-ordered species, A general descriptions for these mammals is that they have a white face, and grayish-white body, with black ears and feet. They can weigh less than 1 ounce to over 20 pounds. Like the opossum, the possum has a pouch and gives birth to live young.

Possum vs. Opossum: Key Differences

When you’re trying to distinguish between a possum and an opossum, there are several clear characteristics to look out for:

  • Geographical Location: You’ll find opossums in North and Central America, whereas possums are native to Australia and the surrounding islands.
  • Appearance:
    • Tail: Your first clue is their tails; an opossum has a thin, bare tail that resembles a rat’s tail, while a possum’s tail is furry and bushy.
    • Snout: Opossums have pointed snouts and a row of 50 sharp teeth, the most teeth you’ll find in any North American land mammal. Possums have smaller, chisel-shaped teeth suited for their diet.
    • Ears: Notice the ears—opossums have large, hairless ears, whereas possums have smaller, fur-covered ears.
  • Behavior:
    • Diet: Both are opportunistic eaters, but possums prefer to dine on leaves, fruits, and flowers, while opossums aren’t picky and will eat almost anything, including carrion.
    • Defense: Opossums are famous for ‘playing dead’ when threatened, a behavior you won’t see in possums.

Possum vs. Opossum: Example in Sentences

Possum Examples

  • The opossum foraged through the backyard, looking for food scraps left in the compost bin.
  • At night, the opossum played dead to protect itself from the prowling coyotes.
  • The mother opossum carried her babies on her back as she climbed over the fence.
  • During the nature walk, we spotted an opossum hanging by its prehensile tail from a branch.
  • The opossum‘s immune system is notably resistant to certain snake venoms, making it a unique subject for scientific study.
  • The opossum is often misunderstood and is actually quite beneficial to have around since it eats ticks and other garden pests.
  • In the dim light of dusk, the silhouette of an opossum could be seen as it ambled across the field.

Opossum Examples

  • The possum scurried along the tree branch, its eyes glowing in the moonlight.
  • In Australia, it’s not uncommon to hear a possum on the roof at night due to their nocturnal activities.
  • The ringtail possum is known for its sociable nature, often nesting with other families in communal “dreys.”
  • possum‘s diet mainly consists of leaves, fruits, and occasionally small insects or bird eggs.
  • During our camping trip, a curious possum approached our site, attracted by the smell of food.
  • The possum has adapted remarkably well to urban living, often being spotted in gardens and parks within city limits.
  • Conservationists are working to protect the habitat of the possum, as deforestation poses a threat to their survival.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main differences between opossums and possums?

Opossums are native to the Americas and have a bare, prehensile tail, while possums, found in Australia, have a bushier tail. Additionally, possums generally have softer fur than opossums.

How does the lifespan of an opossum compare to other similar animals?

Opossums have a relatively short lifespan for a mammal, typically living around two to four years. This is shorter compared to other similar-sized mammals, which often have longer lifespans.

Is it common for possums to carry their young on their back?

Yes, it is common for possums to carry their young on their backs. This behavior allows the young possums to be transported safely while the mother forages or moves about.

What is the typical diet for a possum?

Possums are omnivorous and have a diet that includes leaves, fruits, small insects, and sometimes small vertebrates. Their diet can vary based on the availability of food sources in their environment.

How are opossums and possums related to each other in the animal kingdom?

Opossums and possums are distantly related and both are marsupials, but they are classified under different orders. The opossum belongs to the order Didelphimorphia, and the possum to the order Diprotodontia.

Can you tell me about the habitats where possums are usually found?

Possums are often found in diverse habitats across Australia, including rainforests, eucalypt forests, and even urban areas. They tend to prefer environments with dense vegetation and trees for shelter and food.