Did you know that even though the possum and opossum share similar names, they are different animals from the same animal family? In this comparison guide, we’re going to take a closer look at opossums and possums so that you can gain an understanding of their similarities and differences.
Opossum Vs Possum Explanation
Possums and opossums are both correct terms that refer to the Virginia opossum, Didelphis virginiana, that is native to North America. This can be confused with the brush-tailed possum of Australia, which is a different animal from the same family of marsupials. Opossum is pronounced with a silent “O” giving both animal names the same pronunciation.
Opossums (Didelphis virginiana) are native to the North American continent, regularly being observed in places like Canada and the United States. Australian possums ( Trichosurus vulpecula) come from a different region, mainly in Australia. They can also be found in New Zealand.
Now that you know that these are two different (but closely related) animals, let’s look at both of them and how they compare to each other.
Comparison Chart | Opossum vs Possum
There are quite a few differences between an Australian possum vs American opossum. However, because they are from the same family (marsupial) they have a lot in common as well.
|Opossums are found in many different regions across the North American continent, including parts of the USA and Canada.||Possums can be found in places like Australia and New Zealand.|
|Opossums are usually about three feet long and weigh approximately 9 to 10 pounds.||Possums are a little bit smaller than opossums, clocking in at about 6 to 7 pounds on average.|
|It is very common for opossums to play dead when experiencing a significant level of fear.||It’s less common for possums to play dead, mainly because they don’t experience the same level of fear as opossums.|
|Opossums have very little fur on their tails and can sometimes even have completely bare tails.||Possums usually have furry tails, a major contrast when compared to an opossum.|
Here are some possum vs opossum similarities
- Both are small marsupials
- They are both sometimes considered a pest
- The possum and opossum share similar habitats
- Both have similar diets
Even though these two animals live on completely opposite sides of the world, they still share many things in common. It’s easy to see why so many may accidentally get these two mixed up. Australian possums have even been classified as being in the Phalangeridae family, being more closely related to sugar gliders.
They both eat fruits, eggs, and insects. However, the Australian possum eats eucalyptus leaves and can even tell the higher nutrient leaves from the lower quality. Source.
Most Important Differences Between Possums & Opossums
There are also some important differences between these two marsupials. They have different types of predators, they are slightly different sizes, and they have minor differences in their tails and colors.
Possums are known for being slightly smaller than opossums in overall size. Weighing an average of around six pounds, possums simply have less weight and length to their body size, than a North American opossum. An opossum can weigh around nine pounds on average and extend up to three feet in size.
This size difference isn’t too significant, but it’s certainly a noticeable difference between an opossum and a possum. There are still a few additional physical differences that can be observed, starting with their unique tails.
A minor difference may be noticed in the tails between an opossum and possum. If you closely inspect a possum’s tail, you’d quickly notice that it has a lot more fur than the tail of an opossum. Opossums have mostly bare tails with very little fur, which happens to be a significant contrast when compared to possums.
There are minor differences in the color of the fur between an opossum and a possum. Opossums have mostly bright faces with lighter fur colors, while possums have darker fur that can oftentimes be dark brown.
Opossums can also have dark gray-colored fur, but that compared to possums may not be the very first difference that you notice between these two animals. The visual differences are minor but could be one way of telling possums and opossums apart from each other.
Opossums are often recognized for playing dead when facing a predator in the wild. If they are intimidated by another animal, they enter an unconscious state, also known as playing possum or simply playing dead. This natural response towards external fear can deter predators from harming them.
Do Australian Possums Play Dead?
Australian possums also can play dead, but it’s less common. They generally don’t hit the same fear threshold level as quickly as a North American opossum. You should never try to touch an Australian possum that is playing dead, they bite and have very strong teeth. Source.
See our article for Do Possums Play Dead click here.
“The name ‘opossum’ was first used in western culture by Captain John Smith in 1608. It comes from the Algonquin name ‘apasum’, which means white animal.”Source.
Are possums and opossums different animals?
Yes, possums and opossums are different. They share similar attributes, but they come from different native regions. With that being said, you might still easily confuse these two animals due to their similar attributes and appearances.
Are possums or opossums endangered? No, opossums and possums have large populations that aren’t endangered. They are stable and estimated to be growing. They are adaptable animals that continue to thrive in different types of environments around the world.