A-z - Animals

Possum vs Possum: How to say it and how to tell the difference

Keep reading to watch this amazing video

key point:

  • Opossums and opossums are nocturnal marsupials that carry their babies in fleshy pouches. Their location distinguishes them from possums that live in Australia, which are found in North America.
  • Australian opossums are herbivores that feed on eucalyptus leaves, herbs, flowers, fruits and some shrubs. American opossums are omnivores and will forage for food such as fruit, insects, trash and carrion.
  • To ward off predators, possums may hiss and show their teeth, or do something even stranger – entering an involuntary state called catatonia. Australian possums are much cooler and will stare at fellow possums or mark their territory with strong scents from their chest, jaw and anal glands.

Is that furry animal a possum or a possum? What is the correct pronunciation? Is it "playing possum"? What's the point? If you have questions about possums and opossums, you're in the right place. Read on to learn how to tell the difference.

possum vs possum

How to tell the difference between a possum and a possum? Both are marsupial mammals, which means they carry their babies in a fleshy pouch. They are also nocturnal and are most active at night.

The most obvious difference is, where in the world does this animal live? If you see it in the wild in North America, it's a possum—a Virginia opossum, to be exact. If it's in or near Australia, call it a plain old possum.

Next, look at possum vs opossum tails. Opossums have a scaly, almost hairless, mouse-like tail. Opossums have a bushy tail similar to that of squirrels.

You can also watch what the possum/possum is eating. Australian possums are herbivores. American opossums are omnivores or scavengers. They will eat a lot – fruit, insects, garbage and carrion (meat). Cat or dog food left outside is a favorite treat for possums.

Possums vs Possums How Do Possums Respond When Frightened? North American opossums have two distinct defensive behaviors. First, they will hiss loudly at perceived attackers. If this display of aggression doesn't deter curious bystanders, the possum will "play possum" — it will play dead. If some predators think it is dead, they will let it go. But the opossum didn't pretend to be asleep—it actually went into a catatonic state. This is not voluntary, but an instinctive reaction.

Opossum vs Possum: A Comparison

We've compiled the following chart to help you easily tell the difference between a possum and a possum.

Note that there is only one species of North American opossum, Dedelphis virginiana. The common opossum , Didelphis marsupialis, looks similar and lives in South America. There are about 70 species of phalangiformes or Australian opossums. The common brush-tailed possum ( Richosurus vulpecula ) and the common ring-tailed possum ( Pseudocheirus peregrinus ) are the best known.

opossum opossum
geographic distribution North America Australia and Oceania
tail type hairless like a mouse furry like a squirrel
diet Omnivores herbivore
defense mechanism hiss and catatonia Arboreal

Opossums vs Opossums: 4 Key Differences

which one? Opossum vs possum? Consider these four key differences.

Possums vs Opossums: Geographical Distribution

Virginia opossums live in North America. It has been recorded from Canada to Costa Rica. They are the only marsupials found in northern Mexico.

Opossums, on the other hand, are native to Oceania, which includes Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, and many of the smaller Pacific islands.

Opossums vs Opossums: Tail Types

The possum's tail — in opossums and possums — has a long, nearly hairless tail that may even appear scaly. This tail makes the animal look like a very large mouse.

Australian opossums have furry, squirrel-like tails.

Possums have thick, hairy tails, and the name of one of the most common possum species, the brushtail possum, highlights this interesting feature. They also have pointy snouts and usually give birth to one litter at a time, rather than carrying a whole litter to term like dogs or cats.

Possums vs Possums: Diet

What does the animal in question eat? Australian opossums are herbivores and only eat plants. Opossums, on the other hand, are both scavengers and omnivores. They eat just about anything, including plants and meat. Common carnivorous food sources for opossums include insects, small reptiles, pet food, human waste, and animal carcasses.

Possums vs Possums: Defense Mechanisms

As far as possum defense mechanisms against possums go, North American opossums may hiss loudly and bar their teeth if they feel threatened. They are also known for "playing possums". Although this is colloquially known as faking sleep, possums don't fake it. When threatened, they may enter an involuntary resting state called catatonia. This is to deter predators who are looking for live prey. Possums will wake up from this state within minutes or hours.

Australian opossums are very territorial and will urinate and rub oil from their chest, jaw and anal glands in territories they wish to mark. Otherwise, they are shy creatures, but will stare at fellow possums while pricking up their ears for protection.


  • 10 Incredible Facts About Wallabies We've rounded up some facts you wish you knew about wallabies and verified whether wallabies and kangaroos are the same animal.
  • The 10 Smelliest Animals in the World Oh My God, What's That Smell? Maybe it's one of the 10 smelliest animals in the world! find out.
  • Discover the world's largest possum You will be amazed at the size of the world's largest possum!

More from AZ Animals

featured image

possum vs possum
possum vs possum

© AZ-Animals.com website

about the author

My name is Rebecca and I have been a professional freelancer for nearly ten years. I write SEO content and graphic design. When I'm not working, I'm obsessed with cats and pet mice.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is the Difference Between Opossum and Opossum?

Opossums live in North America, while opossums come from Australia and Oceania. Opossums are omnivorous scavengers with mouse-like tails. Opossums are arboreal herbivores with bushy, squirrel-like tails. Possums also have unique defensive behaviors, including hissing and playing dead.

Is the "O" in Opossum not pronounced?

no. The Virginia opossum is the only marsupial native to North America, and its common name is usually pronounced "oh-possum" when spelled with the initial "o." For convenience, however, many people abbreviate the word to "possum," just as we abbreviate "you are" to "you're." Spelling it "opossum" without the "o" is also an accepted official pronunciation.

In scientific or formal speech and writing, the full "possum" is the preferred pronunciation. In everyday conversation, you can think of "o" as a silent letter, if you like. In etymology, word, and language studies, this natural "loss of a short unstressed vowel at the beginning of a word" is called aphesis, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

In Australia and surrounding islands, the native kangaroo is simply called "possum". The word does not contain the letter "o" at the beginning – usually. In rare cases, Australian possums are also correctly called "possums".

Why are they called possums, opossums

"Possum" is the name of the species in North America. It first appears in documents from the 1600s and is thought to have been borrowed from the Native American word apousoum, meaning "a white dog-like animal".

"Opossum" first appeared in 1610. The shortened form of "possum" has been known since 1613. From then until today, many people drop the "o" and pronounce it "possum".

Later, when British explorers who had seen possums arrived in Australia, they observed similar-looking animals. The naturalist Sir Joseph Banks called them "opossums," the pronunciation of the word he was used to in North America. Adding to the confusion: Sometimes, Australians use the word "possum" to express their diversity!

Thanks for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the 10hunting.com editorial team.