Is It Possum or Opossum? | Information and Facts

Many think that opossum and possum are the same. Although they’re both marsupials, you should know that they’re different animals. Some people would use possum as the shorter version of the opossum.

It’s not a problem at all, as long as you know that there’s another animal that is exactly called ‘possum.’

How to differentiate possums from opossums? Possums are marsupials that are native to Australia, while opossums are marsupials from North America. The former has main colors of black, brown, gold, and silver-gray, while the latter has a gray and white body covered with coarse hair. It has black feet and ears.

So, some people in North America would refer to opossum as ‘possum’ on some occasions without the knowledge of the marsupial that lives in Australia.

Besides the name and appearance, learn more about the differences between these marsupials in this article.

Pronunciation of Opossum | Is the O Silent in Opossum?

Pronunciation of Opossum

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the ‘o’’ in opossum is not silent. Thus, the pronunciation is (ə-) ˈpä-səm.

Why All the Confusion Over Opossum vs. Possum?

For obvious reasons, the confusion begins with their names as there’s only one different letter and not to mention that they’re both marsupials.

What Is the True Difference Between Possum and Opossum?

To make these animals distinct from each other, a study was conducted focusing on possum and opossum. It also gives way to a better understanding of retinal evolution. 

Avascular Retina

The avascular retina of most marsupials is similar to their reptilian ancestors. Reptiles have protruding optic nerves called conus, which are responsible for retinal nutrition.

As a possum is similar to a reptile in this aspect, its avascular retina is located on the right cover. Since it belongs to the Diprotodontia order, it shares this feature with kangaroos and koalas.

The opossum from North America has an avascular retina on the left. It’s a trait that is similar to mammals. However, it doesn’t have the anastomotic channels that are found among mammals.

It’s not only the opossums that are unique among marsupials. Possums don’t have retinal vessels that are common among marsupials, including opossums.

Should You Use Possum or Opossum in Writing?

Should You Use Possum or Opossum in Writing

You can write either of the words as long as you pertain to the specific animal. Possum is the marsupial from Australia and opossum that hails from North America.

According to Garner’s Modern American Usage, ‘possum’ is more commonly used than ‘opossum’ when referring to the grayish-white marsupial in North America.

It’s not an issue if someone writes informally or non-scientifically. Nonetheless, it’s best to use the exact word all the time to avoid confusion.

When writing possum instead of ‘opossum,’ North Americans can get the message that you want to extend. However, people from Australia will think of another marsupial that is native to their country.

Should I Worry About a Possum?

Should I Worry About a Possum

The damages caused by possums in the forest of New Zealand have been debated for the past 70 years.

These things are believed to result in land erosion and negative impacts on the economy, specifically in the hardwood industry. Hence, control of possums is a must to maintain the Rata Kamahi forest in New Zealand.

Those who are taking care of cattle should be aware that possums carry tuberculosis that can also infect your livestock. It occurred in Seddonville, New Zealand in 1970, and possums with tuberculosis were a few miles away.

With further study, M. Bovis organisms were discovered in 1972 in lesions of affected possums.

These organisms were also found in cattle that have tuberculosis. Unfortunately, the disease didn’t only contain Seddonville but other parts of New Zealand.

This situation also happened among deer, with the first case that happened earlier than the affected cattle.

But the first case of farmed deer with tuberculosis happened in 1978. M. Bovis is also found in the carcass and viscera of the poor deer.

Although the epidemiology of deer tuberculosis remains unclear, there’s no doubt that it’s connected with the disease that started with possums.

Are Possums Bad to Be Around?

Are Possums Bad to Be Around

Since possums are herbivores, they can damage flowers and fruit trees. So, it’s bad to have them around in most cases, especially if your yard is full of greens. They can go to the extent of killing trees by causing defoliation.

Its eating habits are putting endangered plant species at risk. When possums wipe out some plants, it can also advance to losing some monophagous insects.

What’s the Difference Between an American Opossum and an Australian Possum?

As marsupials, opossums, and Australian possums have the same eyes, snout, and feet. Even so, you don’t need to be a scientist to tell them apart. Just one look at them and you would know these differences.

FactorsAmerican OpossumAustralian Possum
SizeLength: 33 to 55 cm; Weight: 1.9 to 6 kgLength: 35 to 55 cm; Weight: 1.5 to 4.5 kg
Color Gray, whiteGold, silver-gray, black, brown
AppearancePointed face; hairless, round earsWith short fur that is less dense; a hairless underside; has bigger ears
Tail PrehensileSoft and bushy
LifespanAverage of 2.5 years11 to 13 years
HabitatWoodlands, thickets, or near a water source like a swamp or streamTree hollow, caves

American opossums have unique traits that you can’t see in Australian possums. When their young are old enough to come out of the pouch, they put them on their backs.

Opossums are also known for their ability to play dead as they just drop to the ground when they feel scared or threatened. 

Rat vs. Possum

Both rats and possums can find their way to your roof. Of course, it’s impossible to detect which is in this situation. The thing that these animals have in common is being a nuisance in making noises at night.

You have to tell them apart so you can work on the proper management and control.


Rats are rodents, while possums are marsupials. However, rodents and marsupials are both mammals.


Possums can weigh around 4 kg, so they can create heavy noise on your roof. It usually happens at night and dawn as they return to their hideout. Rats make noises when they’re excited as they leap from one section to another.

They’re only noticeable at this point as they only weigh around 300 g to 500 g. Loud thuds can be created by rats too, as they leap on the roof. The noises are louder when there’s no insulation in roof spaces.

Urine and Waste Droppings

The urine of possums can stain roofs and surfaces. In the case of rats, small clusters of their droppings scatter around the area.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are Baby Opossums Called?

Baby opossums are called joeys.

What Is So Bad About Opossums?

One of the reasons that cause opossums to be bad is their liking of poultry. Based on the analysis of opossums’ diet in Portland, 9% is composed of garbage, and the other 9% is pet food.

So, they can rummage through your garbage and steal your pet’s food. You should feed your pets indoors.

Opossums can be the host of fleas that infest dogs and cats. It’s a big concern as these fleas transmit flea-borne typhus. Apart from it, they can have lice, mice, and ticks.

They can also be the carrier of diseases, namely Chagas disease, coccidiosis, leptospirosis, relapsing fever, spotted fever, trichomoniasis, tuberculosis, and tularemia.

What Is a Group of Opossums Called?

A group of opossums is called a passel.

Do Opossums Eat Ticks?

There’s a positive side to the fact that opossums are hosts to ectoparasites. Based on the research conducted in Virginia, opossums can eat an average of tick larvae within a week. However, it was also discovered that ticks are not their preferred foods after analyzing the scat of opossums that live in the wild.  

Do Opossums Have Pouches?

Just like other marsupials, opossums have a pouch where the development and feeding of their offspring take place.

Related: Facts About Opossums | All You Need to Know!


Possums and opossums are different animals. They’re both marsupials that don’t only have distinct looks, but each of them has unique characteristics.

Even though possums are herbivores and opossums are omnivores, both of their diets have negative consequences on the surroundings, other animals, and humans. Still, they’re protected to continue their roles in the ecosystem.

List of Sources


A Tale of Two Possums

Are Virginia Opossums Really Ecological Traps for Ticks? Groundtruthing Laboratory Observations

The Rat

Possums and Possum Control; Effects on Lowland Forest Ecosystems