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Are Opossums and Possums the Same?

A possum is sometimes considered a synonym for opossums, strengthening the false idea that opossums and possums are the same! But contrary to popular belief, opossums and possums are very different.

While opossums and possums share some similarities, they vary in different aspects.  Opossums are found in North America, while possums thrive in Southeast Asia and Australia.

The Peculiar White Beast

The only recorded marsupial that resides in the United States and Canada is the opossum. The word opossum comes from aposoum. Aposoum is an Algonquian term that means either a white dog or a white beast. Although its name directly translates as a beast, its reputation among humans is often the opposite.

The first known appearance of the opossum is dated back to the middle of the 17th century. Upon its first capturing in Virginia, United States, people described the opossum as having a disproportionate or a bizarrely proportionate body. For further research, the Royal Society in London took in the small animal.

With its weird characteristics of sharp teeth, a small pouch in its midriff area, and a snout with a pointed end, they described the opossum as a combined mix between a fox and an ape. (Source: Mental Floss

The Opossums and Possums

In various places, the term possum is just an acceptable, shortened version of the word opossum; contrarily, in some areas, specifically outside North America, the term possum means an entirely different animal species! 

Possums, like opossums, are nocturnal omnivores that usually reside in trees. Although they might seem similar, they have a lot of characteristics that separate them from each other, starting from where they live.

While opossums live in the United States and Southern Canada, Possums reside in Australia, New Zealand, and China. The reason for this is that opossums can hardly migrate farther than Canada because of the country’s cold climate.

Another evident indicator of their difference is the appearance of their tail. Opossums, similar to rats, have naked tails. Meanwhile, the ends of possums resemble that of a squirrel, as it is bushy and thick. The most common species of possum, the brushtail possum, supports this statement.

While we’re on the topic of their differences in appearance, the size, shape, and color of opossums and possums also vary. Opossums are relatively larger than possums. Their white, pointed faces and rough coating also set them apart from possums, with their physical attributes being generally rounded and thickly covered with golden brown layers of fur. Additionally, opossums tend to have more unvarying sizes as they have lesser subspecies compared to possums.

Opossums and possums also belong to different orders of the marsupial. Opossums are part of the Dipelphimorphia order, which completely dominates the marsupial order in the Western area of the world. Possums, classified in the same group as kangaroos and koalas, are in the Diprotodontia order with more than 150 kinds of marsupials.

The last and most notable difference between opossums and possums is their behavior. As opossums are warier, they’ve learned to develop a play dead tendency that spans from 2 minutes to more than hours. On the other hand, possums of Australian descent don’t know how to play dead. Moreover, possums are generally friendlier, making them an easier victim for fur poachers. (Source: Bob Vila

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