Opossum vs Possum: Understanding the Difference

By Strategically AI. Reviewed by Rebecca Hey.
Updated February 11, 2024
3 minute read
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When it comes to identifying small marsupials with a distinctive appearance, confusion often arises between opossums and possums. Despite their similar names, these creatures belong to different families and inhabit different regions. Let's delve into the nuances of opossums and possums to clarify their distinctions.

Understanding Opossums

Opossums, scientifically known as Didelphimorphia, are native to the Americas, primarily found in North and South America. They are recognized by their rat-like appearance, hairless prehensile tail, and sharp teeth. Opossums are nocturnal creatures known for their scavenging habits and their unique defense mechanism of playing dead when threatened.

Exploring Possums

On the other hand, possums belong to the marsupial family Phalangeridae and are native to Australia, New Guinea, and nearby islands. Unlike opossums, possums have a bushy tail and a more compact body structure. They are arboreal creatures, meaning they spend most of their time in trees, and are known for their agile climbing abilities.

Key Differences

While opossums and possums share some physical characteristics and behaviors, several notable differences set them apart:

  • Geographical Distribution: Opossums are primarily found in the Americas, while possums inhabit Australasia.
  • Physical Appearance: Opossums have a hairless, prehensile tail, while possums possess a bushy tail.
  • Ecological Niche: Opossums are opportunistic scavengers, while possums are arboreal and mainly feed on leaves, fruits, and insects.
  • Taxonomic Classification: Opossums belong to the order Didelphimorphia, whereas possums are classified under various families within the order Diprotodontia.

Examples in Context

To better understand the distinction, consider these examples:

  • Opossum: "I spotted an opossum rummaging through the garbage cans last night."
  • Possum: "The possum gracefully climbed up the tree, disappearing into the foliage."

Clarifying Common Misconceptions

Despite their differences, the terms "opossum" and "possum" are often used interchangeably, leading to misconceptions. While possums are endemic to Australia and neighboring regions, opossums are exclusive to the Americas.


In summary, while opossums and possums share certain characteristics, they are distinct creatures with separate evolutionary histories and habitats. Understanding these differences enhances our appreciation for the diversity of wildlife across the globe.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Are opossums and possums the same animal?

No, opossums and possums are different animals belonging to distinct families and inhabiting different regions. Opossums are native to the Americas, while possums are found in Australasia.

Do opossums play dead?

Yes, opossums are known for their unique defense mechanism of playing dead when threatened. This behavior often confuses predators and provides the opossum with an opportunity to escape.

Can possums be found in North America?

No, possums are not native to North America. They are primarily found in Australia, New Guinea, and nearby islands.

What do possums eat?

Possums are omnivores, feeding on a diet consisting mainly of leaves, fruits, flowers, and insects. They are known to be particularly fond of eucalyptus leaves.

Are possums protected animals?

In some regions, possums are protected species due to their ecological importance. However, they can also be considered pests in certain areas where they cause damage to crops and gardens.

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Rebecca Hey
Founder of Strategically.co, we’ve created over 10 million words of impactful content, driving organic traffic growth for more than 300 businesses.

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