Opossum vs possum: how to say it and how to tell it apart


Was this furry animal a possum or a possum? What’s the correct pronunciation? Was it a “possum game”? What does this even mean? If you have questions about possum and possum, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to find out how to tell the difference.

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How to tell a possum from a possum? Both are marsupial mammals, which means that they carry their young in a fleshy pouch. They are both nocturnal, most active at night.

The most obvious difference is where in the world the animal lives? If you’ve seen it in the wild in North America, it’s a possum, more specifically a Virginia possum. If it’s in or near Australia, call it a regular old possum.

Next, let’s look at the tail. Possums have a scaly, almost hairless rat tail. Possums have a bushy tail, like a squirrel.

You can also watch what a possum / possum is eating. Australian possums are herbivores. American possums are omnivores or scavengers. They will eat a lot of things – fruits, insects, garbage and carrion (meat). Leaving a cat or dog outdoors is a favorite snack for a possum.

How does he react to being frightened? North American possums have two very different defensive behaviors. First, they will hiss loudly at the intended attacker. If this manifestation of aggression does not scare off a curious observer, the possum will “play the possum” – he will pretend to be dead. Some predators leave an animal alone if they think it is already dead. But the possum doesn’t pretend to be asleep – it actually goes into a catatonic state. This is not a voluntary, but an instinctive response.

Comparison of possums and possums

We have compiled the following table to help you easily distinguish possums from possums.

Note that there is only one species of North American possum, Dedelphis virginiana. Common opossum, Didelphis marsupialis, looks similar and lives in South America. There are about 70 species of Phalangeriformes or Australian possums. Opossum brush (Richosurus vulpecula) and common ringtail possum (Pseudoheirus visitor) are among the most famous.

Opossum Opossum
Geographic distribution North America Australia and Oceania
Tail type Hairless, rat-like Fluffy, squirrel-like
Diet Omnivore Herbivore
Defense mechanisms Hissing and catatonia Woody

4 key differences between possums and possums

What he? Let’s take a look at these four main differences.

Possum vs. Possum: Geographic Distribution

Virginia possums live in North America. They have been recorded from Canada to Costa Rica. It is the only marsupial species found north of Mexico.

On the other hand, possums are native to Oceania, including Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, and many of the smaller Pacific islands.

Opossum vs. Possum: Tail Type

Possums have a long, almost hairless tail that may even appear to be scaly. This tail gives the animal the appearance of a very large rat.

Australian possums have fluffy, squirrel-like tails.

I Tobago versus diet

What does the animal in question eat? Australian possums are herbivores that feed only on plants. On the other hand, possums are scavengers and omnivores. They will eat almost anything, including plants and meat. Common carnivorous food sources for possum include insects, small reptiles, pet food, human debris, and dead animal carcasses.

Possum vs. Possum: Defense Mechanisms

North American possums can hiss loudly if they feel threatened by showing their teeth. They are also known for “playing possums.” Although colloquially called fake sleep, possums don’t fake. When threatened, they can enter a state of involuntary inactivity called catatonia. This is intended to scare away predators looking for live prey. The opossum will come out of this state in a matter of minutes or hours.

Australasian possums do not react this way.

Possum vs. Possum: How to Say It and How to Distinguish Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the difference between a possum and a possum?

Opossums live in North America, while possums are from Australia and Oceania. Opossums are omnivorous scavengers with rat tails. Opossums are arboreal herbivores with bushy, squirrel-like tails. Possums also possess unique defensive behaviors, including hissing and pretending to be dead.

“O” is silent in the word “Possum”?

No and yes. The common name for the Virginia possum, the only marsupial species found in North America, is usually pronounced “opossum” when written with the initial “o”. However, many people abbreviate this word to “possum” for convenience, just as we abbreviate words like “you are” to “you.” The spelling of this word “possum”, but not the pronunciation of “o”, is also the generally accepted official pronunciation.

In scientific or formal speaking and writing, the full opossum is the preferred pronunciation. In everyday conversation, you can think of “o” as a silent letter, if you so desire. According to Merriam Webster vocabulary, in etymology, the study of words and languages, this natural “loss of a short vowel without stress at the beginning of a word” is called apheza.

In Australia and the surrounding islands, the native marsupial possums are simply ‘possums’. The word does not contain the letter “o” at the beginning – usually. On rare occasions, the Australian possum is also correctly referred to as a ‘possum’.

Why do they call possum, possum

Opossum is the name of a North American species. It first appears in documentation from the 1600s and is believed to have been borrowed from a Native American word, apusum, which means “an animal that looks like a white dog.”

The Opossum was first recorded in 1610. The abbreviated form “possum” has been known since 1613. From that time until today, many people have omitted the “o” and pronounced the word “possum.”

Later, when English explorers who saw the possum reached Ostalia, they noticed animals with a similar appearance. Naturalist Sir Joseph Banks called them “possums,” pronouncing the word the way he was used to in North America. To add to the confusion, sometimes Australians use the term “possum” to refer to their species!

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