Opossum vs. possum — Breanna’s student essay

Opossum Vs. Possum

Opossum and possums are different animals! Some defining characteristics are that opossums live in North America. Possums live primarily in Australia, New Guinea, Sulawesi, New Zealand, and China. Both animals, however, are marsupials. 

Opossums are scavengers and the most common type in North America is the Virginia Opossum. 

They are around the size of a cat (21-36”) and have a gray body with a white face. They have a long and pointy snout, dark and round eyes, and hairless ears. This animal has four paws and a long hairless tail that is a little smaller than half the size of its body. The possum has different coloration than the opossum. It has a range from gray to even black. These animals resemble a large chinchilla.

Both animals, however, are omnivores. They eat meat, birds’ eggs, small vertebrates, flowers, leaves, fruits, and seeds. The Opossum is actually very good for humans. They eat approximately 20,000 ticks a year. It is also impossible for them to have rabies, but they do carry a virus that can be deadly to horses and small chickens. These, seemingly ugly, animals are actually very helpful to the average garden.

The term “playing possum” means that when these animals feel threatened, they will mimic the appearance of being dead. They draw their lips back, bare their teeth, saliva foams at their mouths, and fluid is secreted from their anal glands and it smells very bad. This action is a defense mechanism that they do involuntarily and sometimes they are even killed while “playing dead” because a human believes as such and “puts them out of their misery” When/if you find a “dead” possum or opossum the best thing to do is leave it alone.


Opossums and possums are home to primary woodlands. They like to live near sources of water and are adaptable in a variety of habitats and climates. They do not build their own shelter but rather use abandoned shelters such as burrows, hollow logs, woodpiles, and even man-made structures such as attics.

These creatures are nocturnal and do not hibernate. They also live alone when they are not breeding. When breeding they produce around two litters of four to eight young a year. They are similar to a kangaroo in that they have a pouch that their young live in for a period of time. The young live in the pouch for around 50 days and only stay with their mothers for around 100 days before departing on their own. When on their own they develop skills such as climbing and swimming. Due to having an opposable thumb they are great climbers and even though they are good swimmers they travel primarily on land.

So, when it is appropriate to use which name? If you are in North America and see a small cat-sized rodent (actually a marsupial) and it has gray with small beady eyes, then it is an opossum. If you are in Australia or any of the other countries listed and it has a bushy tail and a more consistent color and the facial features are like the opossum then you are looking at a possum!

Author: Breanna Coultas


Works Cited

  • “Facts About Opossums: Opossum Facts: Havahart®.” Havahart, Woodstream Co., 2020, www.havahart.com/opossum-facts.
  • “Opossum vs. Possum – What’s the Difference?” Opaanew, Opossum Awareness & Advocacy | Opossums Are Awesome, 26 Nov. 2017,
  • www.opossumpower.org/single-post/2017/11/16/Opossum-vs-Possum—What%E2%80%99s-the-difference.
  • “Opossum vs. Possum.” Grammarly, 16 May 2019, www.grammarly.com/blog/opossum-vs-possum/.

Student Scholarships

Every year Thrive Pest Control hosts an essay contest and the reward is a 1-year scholarship at a 4-year university in the United States. This blog post is one of those scholarships.