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" Possums are one of the most common marsupials in Australia. "

Possum One

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Possums are nocturnal animals that can move nimbly through tall trees. Sometimes they venture into human territory and can be heard on rooftops at night. The words possum and opossum are often used interchangeably, but they actually mean different things. Opossum refers specifically to the American opossum. Possum, on the other hand, refers to the Australian variety with the scientific name Phalangeriformes . They belong to different orders, but both are examples of marsupials.

3 facts

  • Marsupials are an ancient lineage of mammals that diverged from placental mammals more than 100 million years ago . Modern opossums, kangaroos and koalas likely evolved from a common ancestor some 20 to 30 million years ago.
  • Male and female opossums: These animals are called jacks and jills , respectively, while a group is called a passel.
  • In Australia and some of the nearby islands, the distribution of towns and cities makes encounters more common. Sometimes considered a pest, possums prefer to hide in dark areas such as attics, sheds, and garages , causing damage and damage to gardens, farms, forests, and equipment. They pose little danger to humans themselves, but they can spread disease by piercing the skin with their sharp claws. If you come across some in or near your home, it's best to avoid contact and have a professional remove it humanely.


These traits are generally shared by all opossums, but there is still a great deal of variation, especially in size.

ring tail
A common ring-tailed possum with the characteristic white tip on the tail.

©Ken Griffiths/Shutterstock.com

The smallest species is the Tasmanian pygmy opossum, which measures less than three inches long and weighs less than a pencil. It looks more like a mouse than its cousins, especially with its soft, full fur and almost hairless ears.

The largest species of opossum are two species (Talaud and Sulawesi), which can weigh up to 22 pounds, about the size of a beagle or spaniel. They also have a hairless, curly tail. These opossums have shorter facial features, including fur and ears. Their fur tends to have darker shades of black and gray, or even brown. The underside of the bear mound did get a little lighter.

As animals, opossums also vary in other physical characteristics. Brushtail possums have very furry tails that are bare underneath. It is able to use this graspable tail to grab onto tree and shrub branches. It also has pointy ears. It's worth noting that both sexes of the common brushtail have scent glands on their thoraxes, which actually dye the fur a reddish color.

The ring-tailed possum ( Pseudocheirus peregrinus ), on the other hand, has a multi-colored tail. Uniquely, the last quarter of the tail ends with an interesting feature: white fur. It looks like someone dipped white paint on the tail!

scientific name

Opossums belong to the same order of marsupials as kangaroos, wallabies, koalas and wombats.

©wollombi/Creative Commons

The scientific name of the possum family, Phalangeriformes , is derived from the Greek phalanger , meaning spider's web, in reference to the fused numbers on the hind feet. As animals, opossums are further divided into several different families and genera. Most possums belong to the family Possumidae, including the well-known brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula ) and opossums. There may be more than 30 different species of possums distributed throughout the Pacific. They belong to the same order as kangaroos, wallabies, koalas and wombats in the order Diprotodont marsupials.

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Some opossum species names include: Common Brushtail, Common Ringtail, Pgymy (there are 5 subspecies), Honey, Mountain Brushtail, Northern Brushtail, Green Ringtail, Leadbeater's, Scaly-tailed, Striped, Lemuroid Ringtail, Copery Brushtail, Cinereus Ringtail , Rock Looptail, Western Looptail, Short Ear Brushtail, Daintree River Loop and Herbert River Looptail.

Perhaps the most unique adaptation of all opossums is the glider. As the name suggests, these species have evolved huge flaps of skin between their limbs, allowing them to glide through the air. One species has been observed to move as much as 65 feet at a time. There are also many different types of gliders: squirrel gliders, sugar gliders, yellow-bellied gliders, mahogany gliders, big gliders, and feather-tail gliders.

The flaps of glider opossums are very similar to those of flying squirrels (flying squirrels are actually rodents and placental mammals, not marsupials). This is an example of convergent evolution: Two different animals evolve similar traits for the exact same reason. Most gliders belong to the genus Petaurus, but feather-tailed gliders, with their serrated toe pads and ability to climb smooth bark, belong to their own genus, aptly named Acrobates.


Possums have scent glands to defend and mark their territory.

© Bryce McQuillan/Creative Commons – Licensed

Possums are animals that are as varied in behavior as in physical traits. Brushtail possums are nocturnal, solitary animals that only come together during breeding season. As the most terrestrial and terrestrial animal of all possums, they can live near human homes and gardens. Ringtailed possums, on the other hand, are highly social creatures that inhabit communal dens known as opossums. These groups usually consist of male and female breeding pairs and their offspring.

Opossums are fairly docile omnivores that only become aggressive when threatened. Some of their defensive behaviors include playing dead, growling, gnashing their teeth, or emitting a bad smell. When they're not hunting, possums spend most of their time grooming or sleeping. Opossums communicate with each other (and with potential threats) through sound and smell. Their array of alarm calls, mating calls, and position calls includes squeals, hisses, clicks, grunts, and howls. They also have scent glands on the thorax to mark territory. As marsupials, they are quite different from rodents.


Opossums are native to the forests of Australia and the islands around Tasmania, New Guinea, Celebes and the Solomon Islands. Their most common habitats include tropical rainforests, eucalypt forests, woodlands, coastal scrublands, and even human communities. The only thing they need is a relatively dense network of trees in which to live for protection and food.


Possum Teeth - Bushtail Possum Teeth
A brushtail possum baring its teeth. Its diet consists of insects, eggs, and a variety of different plant matter.

©Carolyn Smith1/Shutterstock.com

Opossums are animals that have evolved to prefer an omnivorous diet including insects, eggs, and a variety of different plant matter, some of which are poisonous to other animals. They also feed on food left behind by other animals and humans if given the opportunity. The exact composition of the diet varies with food availability from one place to another, so they are best described as opportunistic. Some opossum species have an enlarged cecum (a small pouch in the intestine) to ferment and digest the high-fiber foods in their diet. Molars have sharp points that help them chew hard plant matter.

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Opossums eat chicken and other small animals, in addition to other food sources.

Predators and Threats

Possums are commonly preyed upon by snakes, cats, dogs, foxes, owls, tiger quolls and other large predators. The quoll and snake are endemic to Australia, but many other species were introduced by European settlers, causing their numbers to decline. Possums are hunted by humans for their fur, but the biggest threats to their survival are habitat destruction from fire and human activity. Climate change has greatly exacerbated these events, as evidenced by the devastation of the 2019-2020 wildfires.

Reproduction, Babies and Longevity

The mother possum does most of the parenting duties, even carrying the baby when it's too big for her pouch.

©Stuart Elflett/Shutterstock.com

Reproduction varies from monogamous (one mate) to polygamous (multiple mates) and pretty much everything in between. Only the brushtail possum has the ability to change its mating system at will based on the amount of food available in the environment. Males will court females with loud calls and may give birth to several groups of young throughout the mating season.

Once a pair mates, the females produce one or two (rarely three) viable offspring, usually around the middle of the year for a few months. Some species produce up to 10 offspring, but most offspring die off quickly, leaving only a few. To maximize her chances of survival, the mother will find a comfortable hiding place in a tree hollow or abandoned nest to carry her young. Only a few species actually build their nests from scratch.

As with many other types of animals, mothers do most of the parenting duties, while fathers contribute little to their survival. The ringtail possum is the only species where males also play a significant role in caring for young.

The gestation period is usually short. In brushtail possums, it only lasts 16 or 17 days. The pups, as they're called, crawl through the birth canal into their mother's pouch to feed on her milk. At this stage, they are still blind and deaf and only a few centimeters in size. Cubs are so dependent on their mother that their lips actually fuse around the nipple to prevent it from losing contact during the first few weeks of life. Even as they become more independent, kangaroos remain in their mother's pouch for protection and safety for the next few months. Once it eventually becomes too large for the pouch, it sometimes migrates to the mother's back.

Opossums usually reach sexual maturity within a year or two after birth. Many animals fall victim to predators and disease before dying naturally, so some species often don't live more than 10 or 15 years in the wild. They can live longer in captivity free from most threats.

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small opossum



Population numbers are difficult to estimate, but the conservation status of this animal may vary by species. According to the IUCN Red List, an independent organization that tracks the conservation status of many animals, opossums range between least concern and critically endangered. Widespread across coastal Australia, the brushtail possum has integrated well into human society and is a common sight. On the other hand, the western ringtail and fairy possums are both critically endangered. Many species are currently protected by the Australian Government. It is illegal to hunt, trap, or kill many possums for any reason. Despite this, it is estimated that a quarter of Australia's 27 possum species are currently threatened with extinction.

in the zoo

The San Diego Zoo is one of the few zoos in the United States that houses a variety of Australian possums, and has a long history of keeping the eastern common ringtail possum. The original three members (a male and two females) were brought to the zoo in 1984. After a few years without any possums, the zoo received more possums from the Healesville Sanctuary in Victoria, Australia, but they were not always on display.

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Opossums are omnivores, eating any small prey or plant it can find, including insects, eggs, nectar, fruit, flowers, and leaves. It is excellent at chewing and digesting the tough plant matter that many other species cannot eat.

Opossums are common prey for snakes, cats, dogs, foxes, owls, tiger quolls, and other large predators.

With their plump bodies, long snouts, large ears, curling tails, and marsupial pouches, opossums look a bit like their American cousins. However, there is so much variation within possum populations that this is not a precise rule. Some species look more like squirrels, and even more like mice than opossums.

Opossums are often good in their native environment because they help control insect populations. They occasionally damage human gardens and farms, so they may be considered pests.

Opossum is a generic term for the American group. Opossum refers specifically to the group of animals of the order Phylloides in Australia. They do share many common features, including pouches and curlable tails. But they are otherwise separated by millions of years of evolution.

Possums belong to the animal kingdom.

Opossums belong to the phylum Chordate.

Possums belong to the class Mammalia.

Opossums belong to the family of phalanges.

Opossums belong to the order Diprotodont.

Possums belong to the genus Opossum in the family Possumidae.

Opossums are covered with fur.

Opossums live in bushes and tropical rainforests.

The average number of babies in Possum is 2.

The scientific name of the opossum is Phalangeriforme.

Possums can live 5 to 8 years.

Possums can travel as fast as 15 miles per hour.

The key difference between Australian and American opossums is that opossums, native to Australia, are furry, have bushy tails, and primarily eat plants. Native to Central and North America, the American opossum is gray and white and omnivorous scavengers.